The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, MARCH 13, 1938
Site Ed. Note (added July, 2002): Though we added this book review to the site in the spring of 1999 and had already given great thought to the point we are now going to offer, and indeed, had applied the process in the 1998 article regarding the death of W. J. Cash, we thought it best to withhold this particular thought in relation to this particular subject at that time, just as we have withheld elucidation of many thoughts for some other day when they appear more apropos.
But we are now going this once to break our self-imposed rule of not changing things which were already at this site before September 11, 2001, because it seems appropriate in this single instance, at least this one. We also hasten to add that the reader should not only read the material we reference below, but should also understand its import fully in the context of the plays mentioned herein and the long-standing fusillade of confusion and pain which is caused to society, any society, by the assassination of its leader, the vicarious father figure and friend to many at any given time. And, in turn, with respect to any political reason the perpetrator or perpetrators might have, such an act only comes inevitably back to haunt the party then performing the act and his or her political ends invariably die an unpopular death rather quickly as a result, suggestions to the contrary by Walter Scott out of context notwithstanding. And anyone who will think for half a moment ought know that notoriety gained from such an act is useless and pointless in life or death thereafter. (Nor is there any guarantee of such longstanding notoriety in any event. Who knows what Leon Czolgosz or Charles Guiteau did? How about the name of the fellow who murdered Ferdinand? Anyone outside of Serbia know it--or care?)
The slow course of thought and debate on any point engenders not only good ends for society but good for the cause at hand, as well, in the long run. And if the cause is not yet acceptably articulable in the mind, then wait, for it may be later in life and then might do that mind as well as those in sympathy with it great good. If it cannot, it best be abandoned or greatly altered, for it is more probably irrational.
That said, and perhaps said with too much gravity for the notion we here impart, in the summer of 1991, though we had read the play in college sixteen years earlier, we re-read, slowly, Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare, while writing up some things about W.J. Cash as precis to what has ultimately developed into this site. It was then just a fanciful idea, as we have noted, but subsequently and especially in recent months, has become so relevant to the work here, as we suggested recently in the notes preceding"Avatar" and "Ca'lina, Indeed!", Charlotte News editorials from February 4, 1940, as well as in our Note during the 2000 election cycle, and a few other notes scattered through the site, recycling in different form much of the material we had come upon intuitively in the nine years prior to that, that we have come more and more to piece it together with our gleanings from factual and empirically demonstrable history both from our contemporary time and before, both from events before we began thinking in depth about this material in mid-1991 and events occurring, sometimes with great rapidity, since. And in so doing, have come upon enough confirmation over time to offer it at this point as a common thread to begin to understand some of the common denominators underlying the minds which commit such untoward acts as political assassination or any murder or act by design to take human life, and which, by the nature of the act, plainly mean merely to convey some sort of bizarre statement in bold. The hope then in this exercise is to suggest needed supplements to ordinary formal education to assuage such notions before they acquire traction in the unconscious and become fused with a horrible, real occurrence in the conscious mind--the transference by a seemingly supernatural force from the realm of the dark imagination into dark reality.
The notion can be summed simply, of course, by something we know the Cash family constantly taught to its young, that being that becoming a fanatic on anything is unhealthy for the mind.
But in practice, it can become more complex than any simple axiom of life, good one though that bit of wisdom certainly is. For sometimes, the very nature of our lives, impelled to earn a living in more complex times, with fewer hours and less energy seemingly available with which to think contemplatively about any subect, leads us into fanaticism on given subjects, even our careering jobs, just as our media and popular culture become obsessed with the topic of the day or month, fanatically, especially in times of extreme stress in society. And it might be noted darkly that it is no coincidence that fascination and fascism derive from a common root.
So, beyond the simple axiom, there are deeper ways of understanding, we believe, just how these fanatical expressions take hold of the individual psyche and sometimes multiply to larger groups or, back down the other side of the crevassed mountain, devolve from a group of fanatics to form the seeds of justification in the mind of an individual or some small group of them bent toward an untoward act.
Thus, we offer this notion as a brief look into the mind of John Wilkes Booth, a Shakespearian actor, after all, who reportedly delivered his lines well before the packed house. (See Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, by Carl Sandburg, 1939) It is this notion, though we've never read it anywhere or heard it from anyone, that Booth, subconsciously or at least partially consciously, mystified the lines of the first two scenes ofMerry Wives of Windsor, in fact just a comedy on domestic life and, parenthetically, far more instructive than any comedic presentation we can think of on the subject in modern times--probably because it was written by Shakespeare in part out of his own common experience as well as that of those around him in his environment but with an eye and ear toward the timeless qualities exhibited by everyday life within it. And so it remains now and again to be performed as theater companies get the spirit. These scenes which we particularly reference here involve the characters of Sir John Falstaff, Pistol, his attendant, Master Abraham Slender, Mistress Page, Shallow, the country justice, and Mistress Ford, and serves, of course, as introduction to major forces and characters within the play. There are references throughout the play, especially as Falstaff is attacked in the woods of Windsor Park by pranksters disguised as fairies in Act V, Scene IV, which further call this theory to the attention of the careful and thoughtful reader. But the basic idea on which we offer this bit of speculation may be gleaned from the first couple of scenes of Act I. So if you've never read them or if you have but haven't in awhile and don't readily remember every line, perhaps take the time for a bit and do so.
Was it this bit of scenery which acted as a convenient mental tool to enable dodging, hiding the grossness of the act of taking not only a human life, but such a noble human life, viewed through the drunken eyes of Booth, and passed by the drunken sentry who was supposed to be guarding Lincoln, finally to impel the actor to pass through the wooden door to the box? Did Pistol pick Master Slender's purse, the same Pistol, by the tevil and his tam, who hears with ears? What does the Book of Riddles say?
It is not an idle speculation that we offer or for the purpose of mere historical perspective or psychological analysis of this one heinous crime with effects on society which lasted decades, arguably for a century beyond itself. Rather, we posit the notion that from it, whether speculative or not, we might challenge ourselves to do better, given that there are similar strands running through the assassinations of the sixties, whether as reticulate roadmaps or not, and the murder of John Lennon, emanating probably not coincidentally in fact from related thought streams through literature, as we have set forth otherwise at this site. And that, by channeling into our educational environs some study of the gross effects which too literal interpretation of literature, poetry, especially melodic poetry, songs, television shows, movies, and the rest of popular culture may sometimes have on the psyche, especially one without a well-confirmed ego or identity. It is the notion that sometimes certain types of minds, bright minds more often than not, but minds which lack identity well-grounded in reality, place themselves, perhaps because of lines spoken, names of characters, words which communicate identity to the perceiver, into that character, will so identify with the role, the lyric, the scene, the play, and without noting the usually salutary ultimate moral from the work itself, that the person might actually play out some untoward act in semblance of a character or a scene, whether, strictly speaking, it is a part of the play or not, or in unconscious perversion or conscious misinterpretation of the line or lyric out of context--a tool to dodge the ungainly and bloody reality of the imminent deed, to dodge that inevitable human trait of conscience or superego, as Herr Freud dubbed it--that is to become effectively the heroic Rodomontading blade, Roland, which in the original October, 1929 American Mercury article, "The Mind of the South", Cash suggested the lyncher fancies himself, something to light power to the mind over the inherent resistance to what is at base an act contrary to the nature of any being, to kill one of the same species. And so perhaps we have here a comedy, not a violent bloody tragedy, not Macbeth or Julius Caesar, to enable the perpetrator to laugh maniacally at the guilt, to shed it at least for a transitory period, well lathered in the fermented fruit to aid the process, and attempt to avoid it thereby in the end, to finally brace his nerve to commit the actus reus in bold.
The pistol is not a pistol at all to a Booth, we maintain, but rather a humorous character in the play, one set to fire its tortious remark at the President at the precisely fore-determined line inOur American Cousin at which the audience always laughed uproariously--"Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal--you sockdologizing old mantrap"--married drunkenly and wantonly to the "marry-trap", (spelled "mary" in the original quarto of Merry Wives of Windsor from 1602)--as it were, Abraham Slender to Mistress Page, Booth's mistress, as he rewrote the thing of the play and then broke his leg as he sought to avenge the humiliation of his defeated people.
It is this other mental component which, in the mind of the perpetrator, seems to "pre-determine" the act, force its mere physical vehicle to act robotically, a person separated from his or her self, by dent of not having formed properly a self in those all important childhood and adolescent years, and so acting deliberately, resistlessly in accordance with the attributed external force--not strictly on the imagination, for that usually would have a positive result, but something with propinquity to it in feeling, yet couched in the realm of darkness, of emulation of another's poetic or literary work which has grabbed the imagination and therefore the identity of the perpetrator, though the perpetrator did not write it or create it--authoritarian occupation rather than authoritative imagination. Regardless of the conception of it, the thing has become one with the perpetrator because he or she has interpreted it to fit their own identity, a perfectly healthy and natural thing to do with art, of course, as long as it remains susceptible to the perception and valid interpretation of others also, something of which, we venture to say, the perpetrator has long lost sight. The perpetrator has become one with someone else's creation. He is a fanatic.
It is that which we can get around as a society and as individuals within that society, we offer. And so, by simply a process of de-mystification to understand the art of that impelling, seemingly pre-determining object external. But not by censorship. To do that is to censor all art, all information, all knowledge, even the Bible or the Koran or the Bhagavad-Gita, everything, gravity itself. For it is, after all, gravity which doth make it all go 'round.
It is rather, we suggest, to impart early on the difference between the fantasy and reality, and by showing it, not just saying it, demonstrating vividly the appreciation of the art, and its probable origins, as opposed to enforced rote memorization of lines which stick in the subconscious for a lifetime, though the conscious mind and memory may have repressed them. Understanding how the mind works in some elementary fashion, we believe, is good training for those in high school or even middle school, especially today when people in those age groups and younger are exposed more and more to complex events and thought processes via television and popular culture generally. The personality, we are told by the psychologists, and perhaps it is veritably the case, is formed by the age of 5 or 6, before formal education even usually begins. ("Bah, bah, black sheep, have you any wool?") But common experience suggests that the shaping of that personality into a creative rather than destructive force is a mutable and not pre-determined process and has three co-equal responsible parties at work on it constantly, not just in childhood and adolescence but throughout life. ("There's a fog upon L.A. and my friends have lost their way") Those three broad processes appear from experience to be educational institutions, society at large including peerage, and the immediacy of parenting, including the process of sibling interaction should there be any. ("You've got to prime the pump, you must have faith and belief. You've got to give of yourself if you're willing to receive. Drink all the water you can hold, wash your face to your feet, but leave a bottleful for others. Thank ye kindly…")
Over-protection and censorship is a recipe for disaster in our opinion. We have seen repeatedly the product of poor forms of all three forces in play on bright but poorly formed egos, ultimately falling through the cracks to wind up before the criminal justice system accused and too often quite guilty of violent, destructive acts. Why? Yes, of course, the individual, short of actual coercion by threat of immediate physical violence, must bear responsibility and is ultimately responsible vis à vis cold reality for the particular act. But to view it only in that light, beyond the time and place of setting punishment, is a disservice to society and to the potential victim, you or someone you know, of the next one or the one who is sentenced now but will ultimately be released later. Throwing away the key also, we posit, is not the answer, but makes us all into callous and artful dodgers, and probably causes the next untoward actor to act in rebellion to and exasperation with that very notion of Draconian punishment for the slightest infraction. But such is by no means an inevitable result.
Better, more thorough education into the realm of the mind as it relates to the creative and the intuitive, we suggest, is the anodyne, and one to be administered as early in the educational process as can be practically understood by the individual child or adolescent.
Practically speaking, a course might be designed by some enterprising school district (not to exclude more advanced such courses on the college campus) in association with its best history, English, art, music, and biology teachers (and including philosophy, religion, anthropology, psychology and sociology at the college level) in combination with the school district's psychologists to study these harsh antecedents of history in just this hyper-intuitive manner we have suggested. (Shall we style this logical positivistic intuition, oxymoronic though it may at first appear? For vernacular lovers, try lopointu. Alright, lopointu it is, pronounced lo-po-intu. If you don't care for that, try reductionist linguistic metaphysics, (metaphysical linguistic reductionism?) or metareduling, for short, or just plain metaredu if you prefer, either contraction taking into account the backwards nature of this investigative thinking, from act to perpetrating mindset, then to defang the overintu into lopointu. Well, two variant labels and abbreviations for each of them are enough with which to start.) And of course, bright parents might do likewise from within their homes. Not as Rorschach whereby students are asked to draw the Lincoln assassination, act it out, or some similar experimental act and divine from that subjective interpretation some cautiously predictive Orwellian horror world lest the child immediately be placed on ritalin or prozak. But rather simply to row the boat down the dark, foreboding river from the innocence of Alice to Lennon, from Poe to Burns to Shakespeare to Longfellow, what have you of emphasis at the moment, maybe even from or to Cash as well, (though the latter we recommend only for the more advanced and those of college age, Cash being better to serve the rowing parent or teacher as a good river guide), view the scenery, mysterious and scary though it may be, comfort the shaking soul, and understand lopointu while studying the events empirically which mate with the darkly confused intuitive gleaning most usually born of mixed-up identity--then by an understanding of that process, shredding the effervescent demon which has not yet come to be in bloody fusion with reality, and thereby, hopefully never allowing its Deily little head to raise itself again in any but a truly poetic way by well-trained lopointuitists or metareductionists.
For ultimately, it was not "you and me" who killed the Kennedys or King or Lincoln or Lennon or Christ or anyone else, (nor does the song that said it say it, in fact), but it was the unexorcised demons of childhoods of certain individuals which were confused and incomplete in their training which did that, whether by way of conspiracy, reticulate and loosely connected networks, or by that rarest of forms, the truly lone individual.
And those horribly misfigured "demons", we most often find in the experience of any of us when reflecting on childhood memories via the lopointu process, including the reasonably well-adjusted child fortunate enough to have had a caring, patient parent or teacher, are nothing more than the innocence of misperception of the simplest things in the environs of the child. A hat rack becomes a horribly grotesque horned monster moving steadily across the floor in the darkness of the night, reaching out to harm. Daylight is needed, and needed quickly, to expel the horrible miscreant back into its proper lathe-turned, fluted wooden post and most dramatically curved brass claws, to the realm of the rational. Metaredu wins again. Hi-o, Silver.
And, while we are being a little too pushily persuasive and pedantic here, we don't recommend mobiles for infants. It keeps them quiet, perhaps, but also quietly fascinated with nonsense. If perchance the deed is done and they are now out of the crib and fascinated with everything which goes 'round and 'round, including silly jingles on tv, we suggest that the mobile be retained and later the individual swirling objects upon its appendages explained as to significance, thoughtfully and imaginatively, perhaps with the aid of some fictional literature and a good encyclopedia. Nor do we agree with the popular conception that play with toy guns or the like leads necessarily to affection for the real thing. Have you ever been hit in the eye at age four inadvertently by your older brother while playing cowboys and Indians across the bed with a pop rifle filled with some missile such as the leg of Lee's Traveler--from a brass souvenir statue, that is? Ouch! No more guns for us, real or imaginary. In fact, no more Civil Wars or Indian wars, either. Parenting. Violent video games, on the other hand, are another issue entirely. Lopointu might work, however, there as well. Try it. We've never played one.
Some do, however.
So while we are about the subject, let us be sobered to the recollection that the name of the author of a quite humorous 1944 Broadway play, popular in its day, a play which most of us have seen as a film produced in 1950 and revisited or visited for the first time circa 1962 on television's once-upon-a-time "Saturday Night at the Movies", a play with a character named Judge Gaffney, a play essentially about over-drinkers with over-active imaginations who get into a dizzy, so over-active as to conjure from nothing a six-foot tall rabbit named "Harvey", was Mary Coyle Chase.
And, while there are many other things to recall, we must not, of course, forget in this regard three days in Gettysburg, or the Address which followed on November 19, 1863, the march by Marse Robert's army across the field the day after Longstreet made the futile assault from the right flank toward Little Roundtop, or the copse of trees which was the target of the fatal charge by the "the golden-locked" Pickett, the stone wall by that copse which was "the highwater mark of the Confederacy", being the point of the final assault on a Northern line in Northern territory made during the Civil War, right at the Bloody Angle, where for some time now, since well prior to the 1960's anyway, stands the California Memorial--and all that is not to forget that the Northern cause was saved in those early July days arguably and most probably by the keen eyes of one man, a surveying engineer, who peered from his binoculars off the edge of Little Roundtop early on July 2, 1863, down into and past the Devil's Den and, seeing the Rebels slowly approaching, called up Union support troops to defend the rocky little hill. His name, though we don't know it very well, was Gouverneur Kembel Warren.
Story of Reconstruction:
Lincoln's Broken Promises
--A Review by W. J. Cash
Lincoln broke his word. And Grant broke his word. That is the story Mr. Robert Selph Henry tells, specifically in part, by implication in part, in the first three pages of his "The Story of Reconstruction," published March 4 by Bobbs-Merrill.
Under the shadow of the Lincoln myths, it has been nearly forgotten. But on April 4 of 1865 Lincoln advanced into Richmond and occupied the Confederate White House, two days after the Confederate Government had fled the city, on its way to the limbo of things that were and are not. There, next day, a delegation of prominent Richmond men, headed by John A. Campbell, sometime Supreme Court Justice of the United States and Assistant Secretary of War in the Confederate Cabinet, called on him with the view to arranging a peace. He laid down his terms, and told Campbell that he might issue a call summoning the Virginia Legislature (the true Legislature) into session to pass on them. Thereafter he went back to Washington, where Edwin M. Stanton began to protest to high heaven against such terms being granted the wicked Southerners. At a courthouse standing in the fields of Virginia General Lee gave up his sword--and the Civil War was history.
With that knowledge before them, Lincoln surrendered to Stanton--and Reconstruction had begun. On April 12 the War Department set forth an order that the reassembling of the Virginia Legislature was forbidden, and promising prison for "any persons named in the call signed by J. A. Campbell and others who are found in Richmond twelve hours after the publication of this notice."
Meantime, Grant had given his word at Appomattox. In the terms he agreed to there was a passage which ran, "each officer and man will be allowed to return to his home, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they reside." Long and devious was the course which Grant went through in breaking that word. And to comprehend it, if you do not already know it, you'll have to read all of Mr. Henry's book. But--ah, well, there were times when he seemed almost to be trying to keep it, yet, by and large, he did break it in the end. And it remained for old Whiskers Hayes to redeem it at last, as the price of seating himself on the imperial throne.
HE CAN WRITE
Mr. Henry has written a very good book, I think. He pretends to throw no new light on the story, but merely to bring together and set forth in coherent and consecutive form the tangled threads of events in the Southern country in the years from 1865 to 1877. It is a genuine service. Most of the material he uses comes from horrid monographs, which nobody could conceivably read with anything but the most intense fatigue, or from the volumes of men who, with the best intentions in the world of being readable, simply couldn't write. Mr. Henry, on the other hand, can write very well. And he knows how to organize materials for dramatic effect, without distorting them.
The book runs to 633 pages, and sells for $5--a modest price for so good a book.
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