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Mar 062021
 

Today is Independence Day in Ghana. Independence was achieved through the Ghana Independence Act 1957, an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that granted what was then known as the Gold Coast (and allied territories) fully responsible government within the British Commonwealth of Nations under the name Ghana. The Act received the Royal Assent on 7 February 1957 and Ghana came into being on 6 March 1957. At that time, independence within the British Commonwealth could not be attained by a dependent territory like Gold Coast without legislation passed in Westminster. The main provisions of the Act closely follow the Statute of Westminster and the Ceylon Independence Act 1947. The grant of independence to the Gold Coast was achieved by two separate legislative operations, namely, the passing of the Act and the making of the Ghana (Constitution) Order in Council 1957.

A matter that complicated the legislation was that what was to become Ghana was not a single, constitutional unit but rather four distinct areas: The Gold Coast Colony which was a Crown Colony and therefore part of Her Majesty’s dominions; the Ashanti Colony which was likewise a Crown Colony and part of Her Majesty’s dominions; the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast which was a British Protectorate and not part of Her Majesty’s dominions; and British Togoland which was a United Nations trust territory and not part of Her Majesty’s dominions. With respect to the Northern Territories, the legislation terminated the agreements with the local Chiefs on which the protectorate status was based. With respect to British Togoland, a referendum was held to determine the consent of its people to being united with the rest of what would become Ghana. With effect from when the Act entered into force all of what became Ghana became part of Her Majesty’s dominions as a single, unified dominion. The independence legislation began to take shape following the return of the Convention People’s Party to power at the Gold Coast general election of 1954. The party won 79 out of 104 seats. The Gold Coast government expressed its hope of achieving independence within the lifetime of the new assembly.

A dispute within the Gold Coast about the form of Constitution after independence was still unresolved as late as 1956. The same year the United Kingdom government publicly stated that provided it had the support of a “reasonable majority”, the United Kingdom was prepared to legislate for the Gold Coast to have independence within the British Commonwealth. The Secretary of State for the Colonies added that “full membership of the Commonwealth is, of course, a different question and is a matter for consultation between all existing members of the Commonwealth.” This distinction reflected the view that full Commonwealth membership required the consent of all Commonwealth members. Ultimately, the attainment by Ghana of full Commonwealth membership was consented to unanimously by all of the Commonwealth’s members, announced by the United Kingdom prime minister on 21 February 1956. Letters patent constituting the office of the Governor-General of Ghana and royal instructions to the Governor General were issued on 23 February 1956 and became effective on 6 March 1956. An Order in Council provided Ghana with its first constitution.

The 6 March independence date was chosen for its historical significance: On 6 March 1844, a group of chiefs in Ghana had signed a treaty with the then British governor. That treaty, which became known as the Bond, came to symbolize the sovereignty of the local government of indigenous authorities.

The national dish of Ghana is fufu, a paste made of cassava that is used as a staple accompaniment to meat and vegetable dishes throughout West Africa.  This video shows several ways to prepare fufu in a Ghanaian style:

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Mar 052021
 

Today is Saint Piran’s Day (Cornish: Gool Peran), or the Feast of Saint Piran, the national day of Cornwall. The day is named after one of the patron saints of Cornwall, Saint Piran, who is also the patron saint of tin miners. St Piran’s Day started as one of the many tinners’ holidays observed by the tin miners of Cornwall. The miners of Breage and Germoe observed St Piran’s feast day as that of their patron saint until at least 1764.

Piran’s identity is not entirely clear. He is said to have been an abbot, possibly in Perranzabuloe, in the 5th century – originally from Ireland.  Legends associated with Piran include:

  • The heathen Irish tied him to a mill-stone, rolled it over the edge of a cliff into a stormy sea, which immediately became calm, and the saint floated safely over the water to land upon the sandy beach of Perranzabuloe in Cornwall. His first disciples are said to have been a badger, a fox, and a bear.
  • He was joined at Perranzabuloe by many of his Christian converts and together they founded the Abbey of Lanpiran, with Piran as abbot.
  • St Piran ‘rediscovered’ tin-smelting (tin had been smelted in Cornwall since before the Romans’ arrival, but the methods had since been lost) when his black hearthstone, which was evidently a slab of tin-bearing ore, had the tin smelt out of it and rise to the top in the form of a white cross — hence the image of a white cross on a black background on the Cornish flag.

“St. Piran’s Day was said to be a favourite with the tinners who having a tradition that some secrets regarding the manufacture of tin were communicated to their ancestors by that saint, they leave the manufacture to shift for itself for that day, and keep it as a holiday.” There is little description of specific traditions associated with this day apart from the consumption of large amounts of alcohol and food during Perrantide, the week leading up to the 5th of March. The day following St Piran’s Day was known by many as ‘Mazey Day’, a term which has now been adopted by the revived Golowan festival in Penzance. The phrase ‘drunk as a perraner’ was used in 19th century Cornwall.

The modern observance of St Piran’s day as a national symbol of the people of Cornwall started in the late 19th and early 20th century when Celtic Revivalists sought to provide the people of Cornwall with a national day similar to those observed in other nations. Since the 1950s, the celebration has become increasingly observed and since the start of the 21st century almost every Cornish community holds some sort of celebration to mark the event. Saint Piran’s Flag is also seen flying throughout Cornwall on this day.

Cornish pasties would be ideal to celebrate this day.  You can find my recipe here — https://www.bookofdaystales.com/tin-miners-and-cornish-pasties/   You can also make Cornish clotted cream.  It is possible to buy clotted cream in some markets in the UK but it is not the same as homemade.  I used to make it all the time.  This video gives the basics, which are to place a shallow tray of heavy cream in an oven set at 80°C/175°F for about 10 to 12 hours.  The cream reduces to a buttery, creamy concoction which is perfect for topping scones and jam at tea time.

 

Feb 282021
 

Today is the second Sunday of Lent, known as Reminiscere Sunday from the introit, Reminiscere miserationum tuarum Domine, which in English can be rendered:

Remember, O Lord, Thy compassions and Thy mercies, which are from the beginning, lest at any time our enemies rule over us: deliver us O God of Israel, from all our tribulations.

I did actually pay lip service to the second Sunday in Lent some years ago, but it happened to coincide with Purim in the Jewish tradition, so it was second fiddle back then – https://www.bookofdaystales.com/purim/   This year I will pay more attention to Lent (Purim was February 25/26 this year).

The readings for Reminiscere Sunday are the promises to Abraham in Genesis 17, and a restatement of them in Romans 4. The bottom line is that success comes from having faith, trusting God, and being patient.  The curious part of the Genesis narrative is that Abram is promised a son, when he was 99 and his wife Sarai was 90.  Supposedly she laughed at the idea and, in consequence, her son was called Isaac, which can be read as “laughs” in Hebrew” (יִצְחָק). The point is that you will get what you have been promised if you just wait patiently.  God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s to Sarah after giving them the good news that their offspring will be more numerous than the stars in the sky, and a name change is always important in the Hebrew text.  In this case, the name changes have baffled scholars for centuries.  Sarai and Sarah are just dialectal variants of the same name, and Abram and Abraham are obscure etymologically, except they contain the roots “av” (אב) “father” and “ram” (רם) “high” – with the “ha” (ה) supposedly added in mark of the new covenant with God. That last bit has no justification in linguistics.

For a day that is all about remembering, you can think of recipes in two ways.  First, you can remember your favorite dish – perhaps from childhood.  Second, you can cook a favorite dish – from memory.  The latter is not too demanding.  Most of us cook from memory most of the time. For some mysterious reason, all my favorite dishes from childhood are from Argentina – milanesa, tuco, ravioli with brains, egg tortilla, dulce de leche, etc.  I have given recipes for all of them already. Instead here is a wonderful memory of my home – Doña Petrona’s cooking show. Doña Petrona was the chief celebrity cook in Argentina in the 1950s and ’60s, and her cookbook was beside the copy of Mrs Beeton in my house growing up.

Feb 272021
 

Today is the birthday (1902) of John Ernst Steinbeck Jr, considered to be one of the giants of US literature. During his writing career, he wrote 33 books (with one book coauthored with Edward Ricketts), including 16 novels, 6 non-fiction books, and 2 collections of short stories. He is widely known for the comic novels Tortilla Flat (1935) and Cannery Row (1945), the multi-generation epic East of Eden (1952), and the novellas The Red Pony (1933) and Of Mice and Men (1937). The Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath (1939) is considered Steinbeck’s masterpiece. Most of Steinbeck’s work is set in central California, particularly in the Salinas Valley and the California Coast Ranges region. His works frequently explore the themes of fate and injustice, especially as applied to downtrodden or everyday protagonists.

In 1962, Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for literature for his “realistic and imaginative writing, combining as it does sympathetic humor and keen social perception.” The selection was heavily criticized, and described as “one of the Academy’s biggest mistakes” in one Swedish newspaper. The reaction of US literary critics was also harsh. The New York Times asked why the Nobel committee gave the award to an author whose “limited talent is, in his best books, watered down by tenth-rate philosophising”, noting that “[T]he international character of the award and the weight attached to it raise questions about the mechanics of selection and how close the Nobel committee is to the main currents of American writing. … [W]e think it interesting that the laurel was not awarded to a writer … whose significance, influence and sheer body of work had already made a more profound impression on the literature of our age.” Steinbeck, when asked on the day of the announcement if he deserved the Nobel, replied: “Frankly, no.” In his acceptance speech later in the year in Stockholm, he said:

The writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit—for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.

Fifty years later, in 2012, the Nobel Prize opened its archives and it was revealed that Steinbeck was a “compromise choice” among a shortlist consisting of Steinbeck, British authors Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell, French dramatist Jean Anouilh and Danish author Karen Blixen. The declassified documents showed that he was chosen as the best of a bad lot. “There aren’t any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation,” wrote committee member Henry Olsson. Although the committee believed Steinbeck’s best work was behind him by 1962, committee member Anders Österling believed the release of his novel The Winter of Our Discontent showed that “after some signs of slowing down in recent years, [Steinbeck has] regained his position as a social truth-teller [and is an] authentic realist fully equal to his predecessors Sinclair Lewis and Ernest Hemingway.”

Although modest about his own talent as a writer, Steinbeck talked openly of his own admiration of certain writers. In 1953, he wrote that he considered cartoonist Al Capp, creator of the satirical Li’l Abner, “possibly the best writer in the world today.” At his own first Nobel Prize press conference he was asked his favorite authors and works and replied: “Hemingway’s short stories and nearly everything Faulkner wrote.”

Rather than dribble on about Steinbeck’s oeuvre I’ll give some salient quotes of his – drifting into his thoughts on food followed by one of his recipes:

I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.

Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.

All great and precious things are lonely.

And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good

There ain’t no sin and there ain’t no virtue. There’s just stuff people do.

 

It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”

And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about.

All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.”

Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.

I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.

Steinbeck enjoyed entertaining and cooking, and often made poignant remarks about food:

But of all, the hot soup machine is the triumph. Choose among ten—pea, chicken noodle, beef and veg., insert coin. A rumbling hum comes from the giant and a sign lights up that reads “Heating”. After a minute a red light flashes on and off until you open a little door and remove the paper cup of boiling hot soup. It is life at a peak of some kind of civilization.”

The restaurant accommodations, great scallops of counters with simulated leather stools, are as spotless as and not unlike the lavatories. Everything that can be captured and held down is sealed in clear plastic. The food is oven-fresh, spotless and tasteless; untouched by human hands. I remember with an ache certain dishes in France and Italy touched by innumerable human hands.

I ordered bratwurst and sauerkraut and distinctly saw the cook unwrap a sausage from a cellophane slip cover and drop it into boiling water. The beer came in a can. The bratwurst was terrible and the kraut an insulting watery mess.

Let’s take food as we have found it. It is more than possible that in the cities we have passed through, traffic-harried, there are good and distinguished restaurants with menus of delight. But in the eating places along the roads the food has been clean, tasteless, colorless, and of a complete sameness. It is almost as though the customers had no interest in what they ate as long as it had no character to embarrass them.

Can I then say that the America I saw has put cleanliness first, at the expense of taste?

If this people has so atrophied its taste buds as to find tasteless food not only acceptable but desirable, what of the emotional life of the nation? We’ve listened to local radio across the country. And apart from a few reportings of football games, the mental fare has been as generalized, as packaged, and as undistinguished as the food.

Here, then, is Steinbeck’s own recipe for cole slaw (slightly edited):

John Steinbeck’s Old-Fashioned Slaw

Ingredients

1 medium head of cabbage
1 small onion
1 large green pepper
18 pimento stuffed green olives, sliced
1 tbsp-celery seed
½ cup sugar
½ cup salad oil
½ cup cider vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp prepared mustard

Instructions

Shred or chop the cabbage, onion and green pepper. Sprinkle the green olives and celery seed over vegetables and mix well.

In a small saucepan combine and bring to a boil the sugar, oil, vinegar, salt and mustard. Pour the hot liquid over the vegetables.  Mix well, cover, and refrigerate 24 hours before serving.

 

Feb 252021
 

Today is the birthday (1873) of Enrico Caruso, an Italian operatic tenor who sang to great acclaim at the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas, appearing in a wide variety of roles from the Italian and French repertoires that ranged from the lyric to the dramatic. Caruso made 247 commercially released recordings from 1902 to 1920, which made him an internationally popular celebrity (well before celebrity culture was a thing).

Caruso came from a poor but not destitute background. He was born in Naples in the via Santi Giovanni e Paolo n° 7 and baptized the next day in the adjacent church of San Giovanni e Paolo. His parents originally came from Piedimonte d’Alife (now called Piedimonte Matese), in the Province of Caserta in Campania, in Southern Italy. Caruso was encouraged in his early musical ambitions by his mother, who died in 1888. To raise cash for his family, he found work as a street singer in Naples and performed at cafes and soirées.

On 15 March 1895 at the age of 22, Caruso made his professional stage debut at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples in the now-forgotten opera, L’Amico Francesco, by the amateur composer Mario Morelli. A string of further engagements in provincial opera houses followed, and he received instruction from the conductor and voice teacher Vincenzo Lombardi that improved his high notes and polished his style. During the final few years of the 19th century, Caruso performed at a succession of theaters throughout Italy until 1900, when he received a contract to sing at La Scala. His La Scala debut occurred on 26th December of that year in the part of Rodolfo in Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème with Arturo Toscanini conducting. During this pivotal phase in his career, Caruso sang in Monte Carlo, Warsaw and Buenos Aires, and, in 1899–1900, he appeared before the Tsar and the Russian aristocracy at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow as part of a touring company of  Italian singers.

The first major operatic role that Caruso created was Federico in Francesco Cilea’s L’arlesiana (1897). Then he was Loris in Umberto Giordano’s Fedora (1898) at the Teatro Lirico, Milan. He also created the role of Maurizio in Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur (1902). Puccini considered casting the young Caruso in the role of Cavaradossi in Tosca at its premiere in January 1900, but ultimately chose the older, more established Emilio De Marchi instead. Caruso appeared in the role later that year and Puccini stated that Caruso sang the part better.

Caruso took part in a grand concert at La Scala in February 1901 that Toscanini organized to mark the recent death of Giuseppe Verdi. Among those appearing with him at the concert were two other leading Italian tenors of the day, Francesco Tamagno (the creator of the protagonist’s role in Verdi’s Otello) and Giuseppe Borgatti (the creator of the protagonist’s role in Giordano’s Andrea Chénier). In December 1901, Caruso made his debut at the San Carlo Opera House in Naples in L’Elisir d’Amore to a lukewarm reception. Two weeks later he appeared as Des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon which was even more coolly received. The indifference of the audiences and harsh critical reviews in his native city upset him deeply and he vowed never to sing there again. He later said: “I will never again come to Naples to sing; it will only be to eat a plate of spaghetti”. Caruso embarked on his last series of La Scala performances in March 1902, creating the principal tenor part of Federico Loewe in Germania by Alberto Franchetti.

A month later, on 11th April, he was engaged by the Gramophone Company to make his first group of acoustic recordings in a Milan hotel room. These ten discs swiftly became best-sellers. Among other things, they helped spread Caruso’s fame throughout the English-speaking world.

The management of London’s Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, signed him for a season of appearances in eight different operas ranging from Verdi’s Aida to Mozart’s Don Giovanni. His successful debut at Covent Garden occurred on 14th May 1902, as the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto. Covent Garden’s highest-paid diva, the Australian soprano Nellie Melba, partnered him as Gilda. Subsequently, they sang together often during the early 1900s.

In 1903, Caruso made his debut with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. The gap between his London and New York engagements had been filled by a series of performances in Italy, Portugal, and South America. Caruso’s debut was in a new production of Rigoletto on 23rd November 1903. This time, Marcella Sembrich sang opposite him as Gilda. A few months later, he began his lifelong association with the Victor Talking Machine Company. He made his first US records on 1st February 1904, having signed a lucrative financial deal with Victor. Thereafter, his recording career ran in tandem with his Met career, each bolstering the other, until his death in 1921.

Caruso’s timbre darkened as he aged and, from 1916 onwards, he began adding heroic parts such as Samson, John of Leyden, and Eléazar to his repertoire. He toured Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil in 1917, and two years later performed in Mexico City.

Dorothy Caruso noted that her husband’s health began a distinct downward spiral in late 1920 after he returned from a lengthy North American concert tour. In his biography, his son, Enrico Caruso Jr. points to an on-stage injury suffered by Caruso as the possible trigger of his fatal illness. A falling pillar in Samson and Delilah on 3rd December had hit him on the back, over the left kidney (and not on the chest as popularly reported). A few days before a performance of Pagliacci at the Met he suffered a chill and developed a cough and a “dull pain in his side.” During a performance of L’elisir d’amore by Donizetti at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on December 11th 1920, he suffered a throat hemorrhage and the performance was canceled at the end of Act 1. Following this incident, a clearly unwell Caruso gave only three more performances at the Met, the final one being as Eléazar in Halévy’s La Juive, on 24th December 1920. By Christmas Day, the pain in his side was so excruciating that he was screaming. Dorothy summoned the hotel physician, who gave Caruso some morphine and codeine and called in another doctor, Evan M. Evans. Evans brought in three other doctors and Caruso finally received a correct diagnosis: purulent pleurisy and empyema. Caruso’s health deteriorated further during the new year, lapsing into a coma and nearly dying of heart failure at one point. He experienced episodes of intense pain because of the infection and underwent seven surgical procedures to drain fluid from his chest and lungs. Caruso died on 2nd August 1921 while on his way to Rome for further surgery. He was 48.

Caruso sauce is a pasta sauce created in the 1950s in Uruguay, by Raymundo Monti of the restaurant Mario y Alberto, located at the intersection of Constituyente and Tacuarembó Streets in Montevideo. Italian-style dishes created in Montevideo and Buenos Aires continue to be extremely popular in restaurants, with Caruso sauce being an especial favorite.  It is commonly used as a sauce for cappelletti, tortellini, or ravioli, but it can also be used for spaghetti or linguine.  Basically it is a cream sauce flavored with mushrooms and ham.

Caruso Sauce

Ingredients

3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup button mushrooms thinly sliced
3 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp beef bouillon
3 ½ oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¾ cup diced smoked ham
Salt, black pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste

Instructions

Melt the butter in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and most of the water has evaporated.

Stir in the flour until incorporated and it begins to turn golden. Slowly whisk in the milk, then the cream and beef bouillon. Continue to whisk until the sauce begins to thicken.

Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and ham. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Meanwhile, cook your pasta until al dente. Drain well and mix with the hot sauce.

Feb 242021
 

Today is the birthday (1836) of Winslow Homer, Yankee maritime and landscape artist.  Homer grew up in then-rural Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was an average student, but his artistic ability was evident in his early years – nurtured by his mother who was a watercolorist.  After high school graduation, Homer pursued an apprenticeship with a Boston commercial lithographer, and his career as an illustrator lasted nearly twenty years. He contributed illustrations of Boston life and rural New England life to magazines such as Ballou’s Pictorial and Harper’s Weekly. His early works, mostly commercial wood engravings of urban and country social scenes, are characterized by clean outlines, simplified forms, dramatic contrast of light and dark, and lively figure groupings.

In 1859, Homer opened a studio in the Tenth Street Studio Building in New York City, and until 1863 he attended classes at the National Academy of Design, studying briefly with Frédéric Rondel, who taught him the basics of painting. In only about a year of self-training, Homer was producing excellent professional level work. His mother tried to raise family funds to send him to Europe for further study but instead Harper’s sent Homer to the front lines of the American Civil War (1861–1865), where he sketched battle scenes and camp life, the quiet moments as well as the chaotic ones. His initial sketches were of the camp, commanders, and army of the famous Union officer, major general George B. McClellan, at the banks of the Potomac River in October 1861.

Although the drawings did not get much attention at the time, they mark Homer’s expanding skills from illustrator to painter. Like with his urban scenes, Homer also illustrated women during wartime, and showed the effects of the war on the home front. The war work was dangerous and exhausting. Back at his studio, Homer would regain his strength and re-focus his artistic vision. He set to work on a series of war-related paintings based on his sketches, among them Sharpshooter on Picket Duty (1862), Home, Sweet Home (1863), and Prisoners from the Front (1866). He exhibited paintings of these subjects every year at the National Academy of Design from 1863 to 1866. Home, Sweet Home was shown at the National Academy to critical acclaim and quickly sold. Homer was consequently elected an Associate Academician, then a full Academician in 1865. During this time, he also continued to sell his illustrations to periodicals such as Our Young Folks and Frank Leslie’s Chimney Corner.

After the war, Homer turned his attention primarily to scenes of childhood and young women, reflecting nostalgia for simpler times, both his own and the nation as a whole. Homer was also interested in postwar subject matter that conveyed the silent tension between two communities seeking to understand their future. His oil painting A Visit from the Old Mistress (1876) shows an encounter between a group of four freed slaves and their former mistress. The formal equivalence between the standing figures suggests the balance that the nation hoped to find in the difficult years of Reconstruction. Homer composed this painting from sketches he had made while traveling through Virginia.

Before exhibiting at the National Academy of Design, Homer finally traveled to Paris in 1867 where he remained for a year. His most praised early painting, Prisoners from the Front, was on exhibit at the Exposition Universelle in Paris at the same time. He did not study formally but he practiced landscape painting while continuing to work for Harper’s, depicting scenes of Parisian life. Homer painted about a dozen small paintings during the stay. Although he arrived in France at a time of new fashions in art, Homer’s main subject for his paintings was peasant life, showing more of an alignment with the established French Barbizon school and the artist Millet than with newer artists Manet and Courbet. Though his interest in depicting natural light parallels that of the early impressionists, there is no evidence of direct influence as he was already a plein-air painter in the US.

Throughout the 1870s, Homer continued painting mostly rural or idyllic scenes of farm life, children playing, and young adults courting, including Country School (1871) and The Morning Bell (1872). In 1875, Homer quit working as a commercial illustrator and vowed to survive on his paintings and watercolors alone. Despite his excellent critical reputation, his finances continued to remain precarious. His popular 1872 painting Snap-the-Whip was exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as was one of his finest and most famous paintings Breezing Up (1876).

Homer started painting with watercolors on a regular basis in 1873 during a summer stay in Gloucester, Massachusetts. From the beginning, his technique was natural, fluid and confident. The critics were negative at first, “A child with an ink bottle could not have done worse.” Another critic said that Homer “made a sudden and desperate plunge into water color painting”. But his watercolors proved popular and enduring, and sold more readily, improving his financial condition considerably. They varied from highly detailed (Blackboard – 1877) to broadly impressionistic (Schooner at Sunset – 1880). Some watercolors were made as preparatory sketches for oil paintings (as for Breezing Up) and some as finished works in themselves. Thereafter, he seldom traveled without paper, brushes, and water-based paints.

Homer spent two years (1881–1882) in the English coastal village of Cullercoats in Northumberland. Many of the paintings at Cullercoats took as their subjects working men and women and their daily heroism, imbued with a solidity and sobriety which was new to Homer’s art, presaging the direction of his future work. He wrote, “The women are the working bees. Stout hardy creatures.” His works from this period are almost exclusively watercolors. His palette became constrained and sober; his paintings larger, more ambitious, and more deliberately conceived and executed. His subjects more universal and less nationalistic, more heroic by virtue of his unsentimental rendering.

Back in the U.S. in November 1882, Homer showed his English watercolors in New York. Critics noticed the change in style at once, “He is a very different Homer from the one we knew in days gone by” [his pictures] “touch a far higher plane … They are works of High Art.” Homer’s women were no longer “dolls who flaunt their millinery” but “sturdy, fearless, fit wives and mothers of men” who are fully capable of enduring the forces and vagaries of nature alongside their men.

In 1883, Homer moved to Prouts Neck, Maine (in Scarborough), and lived at his family’s estate in the remodeled carriage house 75 feet from the ocean. During the rest of the mid-1880s, Homer painted his monumental sea scenes. In Undertow (1886), depicting the dramatic rescue of two female bathers by two male lifeguards, Homer’s figures “have the weight and authority of classical figures.” In Eight Bells (1886), two sailors carefully take their bearings on deck, calmly appraising their position and by extension, their relationship with the sea; they are confident in their seamanship but respectful of the forces before them. Other notable paintings among these dramatic struggle-with-nature images are Banks Fisherman, The Gulf Stream, Rum Cay, Mending the Nets, and Searchlight on Harbor Entrance, Santiago de Cuba. Some of these he repeated as etchings.

In the winters of 1884–5, Homer ventured to warmer locations in Florida, Cuba, and the Bahamas and did a series of watercolors as part of a commission for Century Magazine. He replaced the turbulent green storm-tossed sea of Prouts Neck with the sparkling blue skies of the Caribbean and the hardy New Englanders with Black natives, further expanding his watercolor technique, subject matter, and palette. During this trip he painted Children Under a Palm Tree for Lady Blake, the Governor’s wife. His tropical stays inspired and refreshed him in much the same way as Paul Gauguin’s trips to Tahiti. Homer frequently visited Key West, Florida between 1888 and 1903. Some of his best-known works, A Norther, Key West, The Gulf Stream, Taking on Wet Provisions, and Palms in the Storm, are said to have been produced there.

In 1893, Homer painted one of his most famous “Darwinian” works, The Fox Hunt, which depicts a flock of starving crows descending on a fox slowed by deep snow. This was Homer’s largest painting, and it was immediately purchased by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, his first painting in a major US museum collection. In Huntsman and Dogs (1891), a lone, impassive hunter, with his yelping dogs at his side, heads home after a hunt with deer skins slung over his right shoulder. Another late work, The Gulf Stream (1899), shows a black sailor adrift in a damaged boat, surrounded by sharks and an impending maelstrom.

By 1900, Homer finally reached financial stability, as his paintings fetched good prices from museums and he began to receive rents from real estate properties. He also became free of the responsibilities of caring for his father, who had died two years earlier. Homer continued producing excellent watercolors, mostly on trips to Canada and the Caribbean. Other late works include sporting scenes such as Right and Left, as well as seascapes absent of human figures, mostly of waves crashing against rocks in varying light. His late seascapes are especially valued for their dramatic and forceful expression of nature’s powers, and for their beauty and intensity.

In his last decade, he at times followed the advice he had given a student artist in 1907: “Leave rocks for your old age—they’re easy.”

Homer died in 1910 at the age of 74 in his Prouts Neck studio and was interred in the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His painting, Shooting the Rapids, Saguenay River, remains unfinished.

I mostly think of Homer as associated with Maine, and when I think of Maine I think first of lobsters.  But there is a great deal more to Maine cuisine than lobsters, or even seafood.  Mainers are justifiably proud of their baking skills, and whoopie pies are a staple.  Here’s a video explaining why these pies are now the Maine state pie (over objections by Pennsylvania):

Feb 152021
 

On this date in 399 BCE, the profoundly influential philosopher Socrates was condemned to death by an Athenian jury. Not their proudest moment by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly one that confirms my low opinion of democracy (with which Socrates agreed, btw). The jury at his trial is conjectured to have been around 500 δικάστοί (male-citizen judges/jurors chosen by lot), and their verdict was based on a simple majority vote. They used shells or potsherds to record their votes, which in Greek are known as οστράκα (ostraca), giving us the word “ostracize” because the same method of voting was used to exile citizens. The trial was held to determine whether Socrates was guilty of two charges: ασέβεια  (impiety) against the pantheon of Athens, and corruption of the youth of the city-state. The accusers cited two impious acts by Socrates: “failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges” and “introducing new deities,” and also held that it was an illegal act to train his students to ask political questions. As you may suspect already, the accusers had ulterior motives. Politicians have never been happy with an electorate that knows how to think critically. Primary-source accounts of the trial and execution of Socrates are the Apology of Socrates by Plato and the Apology of Socrates to the Jury by Xenophon of Athens. The accuracy of these accounts has been the subject of debate for over two thousand years, as has been the ways in which they can be interpreted. Nonetheless, some broad strokes are generally agreed upon.

According to the portraits left by some of Socrates’ followers, Socrates seems to have openly espoused certain anti-democratic views, the most prominent perhaps being the view that it is not majority opinion that yields correct policy but rather genuine knowledge and professional competence, which is possessed by only a few. Plato also portrays him as being severely critical of some of the more prominent and well-respected leaders of the Athenian democracy, and even has him claim that the officials selected by the Athenian system of governance cannot credibly be regarded as benefactors. Also, Socrates was known as often praising the laws of the undemocratic regimes of Sparta and Crete. Plato, Socrates’ student, reinforced anti-democratic ideas in The Republic, advocating rule by elite, enlightened philosopher-kings.

At the time of the trial of Socrates, the city-state of Athens had recently endured the trials and tribulations of Spartan hegemony and the thirteen-month régime of the Thirty Tyrants, which had been imposed consequent to the Athenian defeat in the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC). At the request of Lysander, a Spartan admiral, the Thirty Tyrants, led by Critias and Theramenes, were to administer Athens and revise the city’s democratic laws, which were inscribed on a wall of the Stoa Basileios. Their actions were to facilitate the transition of the Athenian government from a democracy to an oligarchy in service to Sparta. Moreover, the Thirty Tyrants appointed a council of 500 men to perform the judicial functions that once had belonged to every Athenian citizen. In their brief régime, the Spartan oligarchs killed about 5% of the Athenian population, confiscated a great deal of property, and exiled democrats from the city. The fact that Critias had been a pupil of Socrates was held against him at trial.

Socrates was duly convicted and condemned to death. Both Xenophon and Plato agree that Socrates had an opportunity to escape, following his conviction because his followers were able to bribe the prison guards. There have been several suggestions offered as reasons why he chose to stay:

  1. He believed such a flight would indicate a fear of death, which he believed no true philosopher has.
  2. If he fled Athens his teaching would fare no better in another country, as he would continue questioning all he met and undoubtedly incur their displeasure.
  3. Having knowingly agreed to live under the city’s laws, he implicitly subjected himself to the possibility of being accused of crimes by its citizens and judged guilty by its jury. To do otherwise would have caused him to break his “social contract” with the state, and so harm the state, an unprincipled act.
  4. If he escaped at the instigation of his friends, then his friends would become liable in law.
  5. At 70 years old he was willing to die rather than decline into the sicknesses associated with old age.

The full reasoning behind his refusal to flee is the main subject of the Crito.

His mode of execution was drinking a potion laced with hemlock. I don’t think it would be suitable to give a recipe for a hemlock drink unless I was interested in decimating my readership, but hemlock is a member of a family that includes carrots, parsnips, fennel, and dill, so we have some alternatives.  Here are a couple of suggestions:

Dilled Carrots or Parsnips

Roasting carrots or parsnips is always a great option. Cut the tops off and either scrub them thoroughly or peel them.  Place them on a baking tray, drizzle them with olive oil to coat well, and bake in a very hot oven (500°F/260°C) for 15 minutes.  Carefully use tongs to rotate the vegetables, sprinkle with chopped fresh dill, and return to bake for another 15 minutes. Remove to a serving dish and sprinkle a little fresh dill over the vegetables.

Alternatively, poach the carrots or parsnips (or mix), which can be either whole or sliced, until they are barely al dente. Heat butter in a skillet, drain the vegetables well, and sauté them in the butter with some chopped fresh dill.

 

 

Jan 252021
 

Today is the birthday (1874) of William Somerset Maugham CH, English novelist, playwright, and short story writer. He was among the most popular writers of his era and reputedly the highest-paid author during the 1930s.

Maugham was the fourth of six sons born in his family. Their father, Robert Ormond Maugham, was a lawyer who handled the legal affairs of the British Embassy in Paris. Since French law declared that all children born on French soil could be conscripted for military service, his father arranged for Maugham to be born at the embassy, diplomatically considered British soil. His grandfather, another Robert, was a prominent lawyer and co-founder of the Law Society of England and Wales. His family assumed Maugham and his brothers would be lawyers. His elder brother, Viscount Maugham, did become a lawyer, enjoying a distinguished legal career and serving as Lord Chancellor from 1938 to 1939.

Maugham’s mother, Edith Mary (née Snell), contracted tuberculosis, a condition for which her physician prescribed childbirth. She had Maugham several years after the last of his three elder brothers was born. By the time Maugham was three, his older brothers were all away at boarding school. Edith’s sixth and final son died on 25 January 1882, one day after his birth. It was Maugham’s eighth birthday. Edith died of tuberculosis six days later on 31 January at the age of 41. The early death of his mother left Maugham traumatized. He kept his mother’s photograph at his bedside for the rest of his life. Two years after Edith’s death, Maugham’s father died in France of cancer.

Maugham was sent back to the UK to be cared for by his paternal uncle, Henry MacDonald Maugham, the Vicar of Whitstable, in Kent. The move was emotionally damaging, as Henry Maugham was cold and emotionally cruel. Maugham attended The King’s School, Canterbury, which was also difficult for him. He was teased for his bad English (French had been his first language) and his short stature. Maugham developed a stammer that stayed with him all his life. It was sporadic, being subject to his moods and circumstances. Miserable both at his uncle’s vicarage and at school, Maugham developed a talent for making wounding remarks to those who displeased him, which ability is sometimes reflected in Maugham’s literary characters.

At age 16, Maugham refused to continue at The King’s School. His uncle allowed him to travel to Germany, where he studied literature, philosophy and German at Heidelberg University. After Maugham’s return to Britain, his uncle found him a position in an accountant’s office. After a month Maugham gave it up and returned to Whitstable. His uncle tried to find Maugham a new profession. Maugham’s father and three older brothers were distinguished lawyers, but Maugham was not interested in this profession. He rejected a career in the Church because of his stutter. His uncle rejected the Civil Service, believing that it was no longer a career for gentlemen after a new law requiring applicants to pass an entrance examination. The local physician suggested the medical profession and Maugham’s uncle agreed.

Maugham had been writing steadily since he was 15, and wanted to be an author, but he did not tell his guardian. For the next five years, he studied medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School in Lambeth. Maugham was living in London, meeting working-class people whom he would never have met otherwise, and seeing them at a time of heightened anxiety and meaning in their lives. In maturity, he recalled the value of his experience as a medical student: “I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief …”

Maugham kept his own lodgings, took pleasure in furnishing them, filled many notebooks with literary ideas, and continued writing nightly while at the same time studying for his medical degree. In 1897, he published his first novel, Liza of Lambeth, a tale of working-class adultery and its consequences. It drew its details from Maugham’s experiences as a medical student doing midwifery work in Lambeth (which was a slum at the time). Maugham wrote near the opening of the novel: “… it is impossible always to give the exact unexpurgated words of Liza and the other personages of the story; the reader is therefore entreated with his thoughts to piece out the necessary imperfections of the dialogue.” Liza of Lambeth‘s first print run sold out in a matter of weeks. Maugham, who had qualified as a medic, dropped medicine and embarked on his 65-year career as a writer.

The writer’s life allowed Maugham to travel and to live in places such as Spain and Capri for the next decade, but his next ten works never came close to rivaling the success of Liza. This changed in 1907 with the success of his play Lady Frederick. By the next year, he had four plays running simultaneously in London, and Punch published a cartoon of Shakespeare biting his fingernails nervously as he looked at the billboards. Maugham’s supernatural thriller, The Magician (1908), based its principal character on the well-known and somewhat disreputable Aleister Crowley. Crowley took some offence at the treatment of the protagonist, Oliver Haddo. He wrote a critique of the novel, charging Maugham with plagiarism, in a review published in Vanity Fair. Maugham survived the criticism without much damage to his reputation.

By 1914, Maugham was famous, with 10 plays produced and 10 novels published. Too old to enlist when the First World War broke out, he served in France as a member of the British Red Cross’s so-called “Literary Ambulance Drivers”, a group of around 24 well-known writers, including John Dos Passos, E. E. Cummings, and Ernest Hemingway. The experience is a crucial component in the opening chapters of The Razor’s Edge, one of my favorites of his.

Of Human Bondage (1915) initially was criticized in both England and the United States; the New York World described the romantic obsession of the protagonist Philip Carey as “the sentimental servitude of a poor fool”. The influential US novelist and critic Theodore Dreiser rescued the novel, referring to it as a work of genius and comparing it to a Beethoven symphony. His review gave the book a lift, and it has never been out of print since.

Of Human Bondage is considered to have many autobiographical elements. Maugham gave Philip Carey a club foot (rather than his stammer); the vicar of Blackstable appears derived from the vicar of Whitstable; and Carey is a medic. Maugham insisted the book was more invention than fact. The close relationship between fictional and non-fictional became Maugham’s trademark. He wrote in 1938: “Fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back on it, I can hardly distinguish one from the other.”

Here are some typical quotes:

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you very often get it.

To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.

Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five.

Impropriety is the soul of wit.

Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.

The tragedy of love is indifference.

The important thing was to love rather than to be loved.

The love that lasts longest is the love that is never returned.

If a man hasn’t what’s necessary to make a woman love him, it’s his fault, not hers.

When you choose your friends, don’t be short-changed by choosing personality over character.

We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.”

The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.

I always find it more difficult to say the things I mean than the things I don’t.

This quote used to be more salient than it is nowadays, although the ignorescanti have the stupid habit of going on and on about how bad English food is, and this blog probably won’t change many minds.

If you want to eat well in England, eat three breakfasts.

I have given recipes for a “full English” and kedgeree already. Deviled kidneys were a beloved favorite at the Edwardian breakfast sideboard, and are one of my cherished dishes.  Lamb kidneys work best, but ox or pork will also serve.  Lamb kidneys need to be split in half and it is best to remove all the white tubules (although not absolutely necessary). Some cooks also soak the kidneys in milk to reduce the strong flavor, but I don’t.  Ox kidneys need to be cut into bite-sized pieces, and pig kidneys should be quartered.  You can use mushrooms in the dish or not as you please. If you do, I suggest porcini or crimini or the like (I use Asian mushrooms these days). Button mushrooms can serve if you find them to your taste.

Deviled Kidneys

Ingredients

½ lb fresh mushrooms, cut into large pieces (optional)
2 to 4 kidneys (preferably lamb)
¼ cup flour
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 ½ tsp dry English mustard
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
6 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp beef stock
toast slices

Instructions

If you are using the mushrooms, sear them in a hot pan with 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter until nicely browned on their edges. Remove them and set aside.

Place the flour, cayenne, mustard, salt, and black pepper in a heavy brown paper bag. Add the kidneys and shake vigorously to coat thoroughly.

Heat a heavy skillet over high heat, then add 3 more tablespoons of butter. Brown the kidneys on all sides in the butter. Return the mushrooms to the pan and add a big splash of Worcestershire sauce and the stock, and shake the pan to combine all the ingredients.

Remove the kidneys and mushrooms and set them on top or beside a slice of toast. Reduce the sauce in the skillet and then pour it over the kidneys.

Serves 1 (if it is me) or 2

Jan 242021
 

On this date in 1848, James W. Marshall found gold at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California starting the California Gold Rush (1848–1855). The news of gold brought approximately 300,000 people to California from the rest of the United States and abroad. The sudden influx of gold into the money supply reinvigorated the US economy, and the sudden population increase allowed California to proceed rapidly to statehood, in the Compromise of 1850. The Gold Rush had severe effects on indigenous Californians and accelerated the Native American population’s decline from disease, starvation, and the California Genocide (massacres by settlers and gold hunters). By the time it ended, California had gone from a thinly populated ex-Mexican territory, to having one of its first two U.S. Senators, John C. Frémont, selected to be the first presidential nominee for the new Republican Party, in 1856.

The effects of the Gold Rush were substantial. Whole indigenous societies were attacked and pushed off their lands by the gold-seekers, called “forty-niners” (referring to 1849, the peak year for Gold Rush immigration). Outside of California, the first to arrive were from Oregon, the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), and Latin America in late 1848. Of the approximately 300,000 people who came to California during the Gold Rush, about half arrived by sea and half came overland on the California Trail and the Gila River trail; forty-niners often faced substantial hardships on the trip. While most of the newly arrived were from the US, the gold rush attracted thousands from Latin America, Europe, Australia, and China. Agriculture and ranching expanded throughout the state to meet the needs of the settlers. San Francisco grew from a small settlement of about 200 residents in 1846 to a boomtown of about 36,000 by 1852. Roads, churches, schools, and towns were built throughout California. In 1849 a state constitution was written. The new constitution was adopted by referendum vote, and the future state’s interim first governor and legislature were chosen. In September 1850, California became a state.

At the beginning of the Gold Rush, there was no law regarding property rights in the goldfields and a system of “staking claims” was developed. Prospectors retrieved the gold from streams and riverbeds using simple techniques, such as panning. Although the mining caused great environmental harm, sophisticated methods of gold recovery were developed and later adopted around the world. New methods of transportation developed as steamships came into regular service. By 1869, railroads were built from California to the eastern United States. At its peak, technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required, increasing the proportion of gold companies to individual miners. Gold worth tens of billions of today’s US dollars was recovered, which led to great wealth for a few, though many who participated in the California Gold Rush earned little more than they had started with.

Recent scholarship confirms that merchants made far more money than miners during the Gold Rush. The wealthiest man in California during the early years of the rush was Samuel Brannan, a tireless self-promoter, shopkeeper and newspaper publisher. Brannan opened the first supply stores in Sacramento, Coloma, and other spots in the goldfields. Just as the rush began he bought up all the prospecting supplies available in San Francisco and re-sold them at a substantial profit. A businessman who went on to great success was Jacob Davis who teamed up with Levi Strauss to produce and sell studded denim overalls in San Francisco in 1853.

Some gold-seekers made a significant amount of money. On average, half the gold-seekers made a modest profit, after taking all expenses into account; economic historians have suggested that White miners were more successful than Black, Indian, or Chinese miners. However, taxes such as the California foreign miners tax passed in 1851, targeted mainly Latino miners and kept them from making as much money as Whites, who did not have any taxes imposed on them. In California most late arrivals made little or wound up losing money. Similarly, many unlucky merchants set up in settlements which disappeared, or which succumbed to one of the calamitous fires that swept the towns that sprang up.

The human and environmental costs of the Gold Rush were substantial. Native Americans, dependent on traditional hunting, gathering and agriculture, became the victims of starvation and disease, as gravel, silt and toxic chemicals from prospecting operations killed fish and destroyed habitats. The surge in the mining population also resulted in the disappearance of game and food gathering locales as gold camps and other settlements were built amidst them. Later farming spread to supply the settlers’ camps, taking more land away from the Native Americans. In some areas, systematic attacks against Native Americans in or near mining districts occurred. Various conflicts were fought between indigenous people and settlers. Miners often saw Native Americans as impediments to their mining activities. Ed Allen, interpretive lead for Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park, reported that there were times when miners would kill up to 50 or more Native Americans in one day. Historian Benjamin Madley recorded the numbers of killings of California Indians between 1846 and 1873 and estimated that during this period at least 9,400 to 16,000 California Indians were killed by non-Indians, mostly occurring in more than 370 massacres.

Flapjacks were a great staple of California mining camps leading to them often being referred to as 49er flapjacks.  They are a cross between English pancakes (crepes) and US breakfast pancakes – somewhat resembling Scandinavian pancakes.

49er Flapjacks

Ingredients

1 tsp dry yeast
2 cups milk
1 ½ tbsp melted butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1½ tbsp sugar
1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla extract

Instructions

The night before you wish to make the pancakes, warm the milk in a small saucepan to about body heat.  Remove from the heat and dissolve in the yeast. Let the mixture stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the salt, sugar, and flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the melted butter to the milk mixture. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until fully combined. Let the dough stand at room temperature for 1 hour, then beat down with a wooden spoon to deflate. Cover with a cloth and let stand overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

In the morning, deflate the mix again and whisk in the beaten eggs and vanilla. At this point it should be a runny batter that can spread easily.

Heat a well-greased, heavy, 12 inch skillet over medium high heat. Make one large flapjack at a time by lifting the skillet off the heat while you pour ½ cup of batter, tilt the pan to cover the bottom surface completely. The top surface will bubble a little as the bottom cooks Wait until all the top bubbles burst and the top itself is not moist.  Flip and cook until golden.

Flapjacks can be served as part of a full breakfast or on their own with your choice of accompaniments – syrup, fruit, preserves, etc.

Jan 232021
 

Today is the birthday (1783) of Marie-Henri Beyle, better known by his pen name Stendhal, a 19th-century French writer, known for the novels Le Rouge et le Noir and La Chartreuse de Parme. He is highly regarded for the acute analysis of his characters’ psychology and considered one of the early and foremost practitioners of realism.

Stendahl was born in Grenoble, Isère, and had an unhappy childhood. His mother died when he was 7, and he found his father, a barrister, unbearable (he actually called him “unimaginative”). In 1799 he left for Paris, ostensibly to prepare for the entrance examination to the École Polytechnique, but in reality to escape from Grenoble and from paternal rule.

The military and theatrical worlds of the First French Empire were a revelation to Stendhal. His secret ambition on arriving in Paris was to become a successful playwright, but some highly placed relatives of his, the Darus, obtained an appointment for him as second lieutenant in the French military forces stationed in Italy. He was named an auditor with the Conseil d’État on 3rd August 1810, and thereafter took part in the French administration and in the Napoleonic wars in Italy. He travelled extensively in Germany and was part of Napoleon’s army in the 1812 invasion of Russia. Stendhal witnessed the burning of Moscow from just outside the city. He was appointed Commissioner of War Supplies and sent to Smolensk to prepare provisions for the returning army. He crossed the Berezina River by finding a usable ford rather than the overwhelmed pontoon bridge, which probably saved his life and those of his companions. He arrived in Paris in 1813, largely unaware of the general fiasco that the retreat had become. Stendhal became known, during the Russian campaign, for keeping his wits about him, and maintaining his clear-headedness. He also maintained his daily routine, shaving each day during the retreat from Moscow.

After the 1814 Treaty of Fontainebleau, he left for Italy, where he settled in Milan. He formed a particular attachment to Italy, where he spent much of the remainder of his career, serving as French consul at Trieste and Civitavecchia. His novel The Charterhouse of Parma, written in 52 days, is set in Italy, which he considered a more sincere and passionate country than Restoration France. An aside in that novel, referring to a character who contemplates suicide after being jilted, speaks about his attitude towards his home country: “To make this course of action clear to my French readers, I must explain that in Italy, a country very far away from us, people are still driven to despair by love.”

Stendhal identified with the nascent liberalism and his time in Italy convinced him that Romanticism was essentially the literary counterpart of liberalism in politics. When Stendhal was appointed to a consular post in Trieste in 1830, Metternich refused his exequatur on account of Stendhal’s liberalism and anti-clericalism.

Stendhal was a dandy and wit about town in Paris, as well as an obsessive womanizer. However, his genuine empathy towards women is evident in his books; Simone de Beauvoir spoke highly of him in The Second Sex. One of his early works is On Love, a rational analysis of romantic passion that was based on his unrequited love for Mathilde, Countess Dembowska, whom he met while living at Milan. This fusion of, and tension between, clear-headed analysis and romantic feeling is typical of Stendhal’s great novels.

In On Love Stendhal speaks of “birth of love” in which the love object is ‘crystallized’ in the mind, as being a process similar or analogous to a trip to Rome. In the analogy, the city of Bologna represents indifference and Rome represents perfect love:

Stendhal’s depiction of “crystallization” in the process of falling in love.

When we are in Bologna, we are entirely indifferent; we are not concerned to admire in any particular way the person with whom we shall perhaps one day be madly in love; even less is our imagination inclined to overrate their worth. In a word, in Bologna “crystallization” has not yet begun. When the journey begins, love departs. One leaves Bologna, climbs the Apennines, and takes the road to Rome. The departure, according to Stendhal, has nothing to do with one’s will; it is an instinctive moment. This transformative process actuates in terms of four steps along a journey:

    Admiration – one marvels at the qualities of the loved one.

    Acknowledgement – one acknowledges the pleasantness of having gained the loved one’s interest.

    Hope – one envisions gaining the love of the loved one.

    Delight – one delights in overrating the beauty and merit of the person whose love one hopes to win.

This journey or crystallization process (shown above) was detailed by Stendhal on the back of a playing card while speaking to Madame Gherardi, during his trip to the Salzburg salt mine.

Hippolyte Taine considered the psychological portraits of Stendhal’s characters to be “real, because they are complex, many-sided, particular and original, like living human beings.” Émile Zola concurred with Taine’s assessment of Stendhal’s skills as a “psychologist”, and although emphatic in his praise of Stendhal’s psychological accuracy and rejection of convention, he deplored the various implausibilities of the novels and Stendhal’s clear authorial intervention.

Friedrich Nietzsche refers to Stendhal as “France’s last great psychologist” in Beyond Good and Evil (1886). He also mentions Stendhal in the Twilight of the Idols (1889) during a discussion of Dostoevsky as a psychologist, saying that encountering Dostoevsky was “the most beautiful accident of my life, more so than even my discovery of Stendhal.”

Ford Madox Ford, in The English Novel, asserts that to Diderot and Stendhal “the Novel owes its next great step forward…At that point it became suddenly evident that the Novel as such was capable of being regarded as a means of profoundly serious and many-sided discussion and therefore as a medium of profoundly serious investigation into the human case.”

Erich Auerbach considers modern “serious realism” to have begun with Stendhal and Balzac.[24] In Mimesis, he remarks of a scene in The Red and the Black that “it would be almost incomprehensible without a most accurate and detailed knowledge of the political situation, the social stratification, and the economic circumstances of a perfectly definite historical moment, namely, that in which France found itself just before the July Revolution.”

In Auerbach’s view, in Stendhal’s novels “characters, attitudes, and relationships of the dramatis personæ, then, are very closely connected with contemporary historical circumstances; contemporary political and social conditions are woven into the action in a manner more detailed and more real than had been exhibited in any earlier novel, and indeed in any works of literary art except those expressly purporting to be politico-satirical tracts.”

Simone de Beauvoir uses Stendhal as an example of a feminist author. In The Second Sex de Beauvoir writes “Stendhal never describes his heroines as a function of his heroes: he provides them with their own destinies.” She furthermore points out that it “is remarkable that Stendhal is both so profoundly romantic and so decidedly feminist; feminists are usually rational minds that adopt a universal point of view in all things; but it is not only in the name of freedom in general but also in the name of individual happiness that Stendhal calls for women’s emancipation.” Yet, Beauvoir criticizes Stendhal for, although wanting a woman to be his equal, her only destiny he envisions for her remains a man.

Some quotes:

Love is a well from which we can drink only as much as we have put in, and the stars that shine from it are only our eyes looking in.

One can acquire everything in solitude except character.

Life is very short, and it ought not to be spent crawling at the feet of miserable scoundrels.

Only great minds can afford a simple style.

All religions are founded on the fear of the many and the cleverness of the few.

Beauty is nothing other than the promise of happiness.

Almost all our misfortunes in life come from the wrong notions we have about the things that happen to us.

To describe happiness is to diminish it.

Stendhal suffered miserable physical disabilities in his final years as he continued to produce some of his most famous work. As he noted in his journal, he was taking iodide of potassium and quicksilver to treat his syphilis, resulting in swollen armpits, difficulty swallowing, pains in his shrunken testicles, sleeplessness, giddiness, roaring in the ears, racing pulse and “tremors so bad he could scarcely hold a fork or a pen”. Modern medicine has shown that his health problems were more attributable to his treatment than to his syphilis.

Stendhal’s birthplace, Grenoble, is well known for Sauce Grenobloise, typically used to sauce fish.  It is the delightful mix of lemon and capers but with additions – tons of butter, parsley, chunks of lemon, and croutons. This video is typical.