19th Century

Samuel Clemens and his friend John T. Lewis in 1903 (Library of Congress)

While showing a picture of Lewis and himself, Twain remarked:

“The colored man. . . is John T. Lewis, a friend of mine. These many years – thirty-four in fact. He was my father-in-law’s coachman forty years ago; was many years a farmer of Quarry Farm, and is still my neighbor. I have not known an honester man nor a more respect-worthy one. Twenty-seven years ago, by the prompt and intelligent exercise of his courage, presence of mind and extraordinary strength, he saved the lives of three relatives of mine, whom a runaway horse was hurrying to destruction. Naturally I hold him in high and grateful regard.”

John T. Lewis was born a “back freeman” in 1835, Carroll County, Maryland, where he lived the first twenty-five years of his life. At the age of 18 he joined the Church of the Brethren, becoming a lifelong member. In 1860 he moved north to Adams County, Pennsylvania, then settled in Elmira, New York. There he married Mary Stover, who was born in slavery.


Author Rating: A

Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins, or Anthony Hope as he was known to his readers, was born February 9, 1863, a young contemporary of Thomas Hardy. While Hardy is remembered and celebrated today, Hope is largely forgotten as a writer. I only discovered him by chance while looking through Andy Minter‘s Librivox catalog. I am delighted to have discovered Hope. His writing is quick and engaging.

His tenth novel, published in 1893, The Prisoner of Zenda put Hope firmly on his contemporaneous public’s map and then further popularized when it was made into a movie in 1913, again in 1922 and 1937. Even though he’s forgotten as a writer, his storytelling has influenced movies and TV shows well into the late 20th century. Hope published 32 novels by 1925 and died July 8, 1933.

The Prisoner of Zenda: being the history of three months in the life of an English gentleman (Listened 09/2016) Recommended

Rupert of Hentzau: being the sequel to a story by the same writer entitled the Prisoner of Zenda (Listened 11/2016) Recommended

I listened to both of these as audio recordings, read by the wonderful Andy Minter who brings the stories alive with his deft chracterizations.

The two novels are set in the imaginary central European country of Ruritania, where adventure and true love and heartbreak await.

Author Rating: Not Yet Read

The Betrothed (Not Yet Read)

“Italy’s greatest novel and a masterpiece of world literature, The Betrothed chronicles the unforgettable romance of Renzo and Lucia, who endure tyranny, war, famine, and plague to be together. Published in 1827 but set two centuries earlier, against the tumultuous backdrop of seventeenth-century Lombardy during the Thirty Years’ War, The Betrothed is the story of two peasant lovers who want nothing more than to marry. Their region of northern Italy is under Spanish occupation, and when the vicious Spaniard Don Rodrigo blocks their union in an attempt to take Lucia for himself, the couple must struggle to persevere against his plots—which include false charges against Renzo and the kidnapping of Lucia by a robber baron called the Unnamed—while beset by the hazards of war, bread riots, and a terrifying outbreak of bubonic plague. First and foremost a love story, the novel also weaves issues of faith, justice, power, and truth into a sweeping epic in the tradition of Ivanhoe, Les Misérables, and War and Peace. Groundbreakingly populist in its day and hugely influential to succeeding generations, Alessandro Manzoni’s masterwork has long been considered one of Italy’s national treasures. Translated by Archibald Colquhoun.”

Project Gutenberg has The Betrothed available to read online or for download to Kindle.

Author Rating: A

Billy Budd, Foretopman (read 1981 and again 3/26/2013) Recommended

I’m not sure that what I read back in 1981 was the same as the version I have sort of read today. Included in a paperback copy of Six Great Modern Short Novels, published originally in 1954, is what is described as “the definitive transcription of F. Barron Freeman published by the Harvard University Press, corrected in accordance with the Corrigenda later issued with that volume.” The writing is extraordinarily obtuse and difficult to get through but, in hindsight, delivers a boatload of information. I will confess though, I didn’t have the patience to read the entire thing. Are other published versions of Billy Budd “cleaned up” to make them more readable? I don’t know, but if you have an interest in language and/or sociology, you can’t go wrong with this “definitive transcription.”

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (read 1981) Recommended

About a man and a whale.

Henry James, date unknown. (Library of Congress)

Author Rating: A

In 1884 the American author Henry James published A Little Tour In France.

It’s wonderful for the descriptions of everyday life in 19th century France, but also for James’ humor.

In this section James is discussing the birthplace of Honore de Balzac:

Honoré de Balzac on an 1842 daguerreotype by Louis-Auguste Bisson (Wikpedia)

Balzac, in the maturity of his vision, took in more of human life than any one, since Shakspeare, who has attempted to tell us stories about it; and the very small scene on which his consciousness dawned is one end of the immense scale that he traversed. I confess it shocked me a little to find that he was born in a house “in a row”—a house, moreover, which at the date of his birth must have been only about twenty years old. All that is contradictory. If the tenement selected for this honour could not be ancient and embrowned, it should at least have been detached.

(Cross posted at From Laurel Street)

Author Rating: A

Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe (Library of Congress)

Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe (Library of Congress)

It’s odd how the work of some writers is made more interesting by knowing something of their personal life and others less so. To me, Poe is one of the former.

An American writer, poet, editor and literary critic, part of the American Romantic Movement, Poe is considered the inventor of the detective-fiction genre. Poe led a very interesting, although short, life.

His father David Poe, a lawyer turned actor, and his mother Elizabeth Arnold Poe, a second-generation actress, both died in 1811, leaving Edgar, then age two, his older brother Henry and younger sister Rosalie orphans in the care of John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia.

Photo of painting of Edgar Allan Poe by Mrs. Norman Burwell, c. 1903.  (Library of Congress)

Photo of painting of Edgar Allan Poe by Mrs. Norman Burwell, c. 1903. (Library of Congress)

Rufus Wilmot Griswold made sure that for at least a couple decades after his death, Poe was regarded as a madman. Matthew Pearl has put together a review of Poe’s obituaries.

A bibliography of Poe’s work can be found here.

The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia has a wealth of material on the man, his life and his work.

Author Rating: A

Royal Highness (read 1980s) Highly recommended

A wonderful story about a prince who tries to do the right thing.

The Black Swan(read 1980s) Highly recommended

Breathtaking story written from the point of view of a woman at a crossroad in her life.

Transposed Heads: A Legend of India(read 1980s) Highly recommended

Sita of the beautiful hips, daughter of the cattle-breeder Sumantra of the warrior caste has a problem. She loves two men, one for his mind, the other for his body. Which one is actually her husband?

Magic Mountain (read 1980s) AVOID

The single most overrated book in the history of literature.

Death In Venice (read 1980s) Meh.

I think it is so unfortunate for the reading public that Magic Mountain is pretty much the only book by Mann that they ever hear about. I have tried to finish it several times but it is one of the most excruciatingly boring books ever published. Death In Venice is only a hair better.

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