The OF Blog

Friday, April 14, 2017

A few recent purchases as I attempt to break my four month-long reading slump

I haven't really had anything to say lately (at least in regards to books), so I've been a bit more quiet than expected.  I did buy a new Mac Mini last week, however, and it's nice to have a computer that isn't slower than walkers who crowd the front of a competitive 5K race before start.  That alone might get me to post more, especially since I was usually either my iPhone or iPad to make most of my posts the past couple of years.

With that in mind, here are some recent purchases I made in hopes of sparking a renewed interest in reading more than a few minutes a week:

Charles H. Beeson (ed.), A Primer of Medieval Latin:  An Anthology of Prose and Poetry

Patrick Modiano, Dora Bruder

Maupassant, Pierre et Jean

Gisèle Pineau, L'Exil selon Julia

Marguerite Duras, Le Navire Night et autres textes

Boris Vian, L'écume des jours

Abbé Prévost, Manon Lescaut

André Mary, Tristan et Iseut

Fabrice Humbert, L'Origine de la violence

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac & Other Writings (Library of America edition)

St. Thomas More, Utopia (Latin)

A. Scott Berg (ed.) World War I and America:  Told by the Americans Who Lived It (Library of America)

Ignacio Malaxecheverría, Bestiario medieval

Plus two-volume Library of America editions of Carson McCullers and Mary McCarthy's works, and the just-released LoA second volume of Susan Sontag's later essays.

Been reading bits and pieces from many of these, just not enough to have finished any so far this year.  Might also re-read some of Andrzej Sapkowski's works, since I do have the Spanish translations of the last Hussite trilogy novel, Lux Perpetua, and the Witcher prequel La estación de tormentas, ordered and they should arrive by month's end.  Also, by then Jeff VanderMeer's Borne should be released and arrive in my mailbox.

So maybe, just maybe, I can break this streak and finish a new book for once this year.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Reading Slump

I had every intention of posting here more this year, but it seems that I've developed a rare reading slump in that from Christmas until today I hadn't read more than maybe 10 pages in any book.  Yes, I have not finished a single book this year (and only properly began one today, with a little over 100 pages read in A. Scott Berg's just-published World War I and America:  Told by the Americans Who Lived It).  Just haven't had the time (lots of 11-12 hour workdays lately, often working 6 days/week between my new residential teaching job and my PRN status at my old one) nor the energy, plus it seems that my prized Serbian reading squirrels have been more busy with their mating season than with attempting to read books.

Hopefully, the springtime will bring some time for reading once the quarterly audits are done and my paperwork is caught up.  I'd like to read more volumes in my Library of America collection (I should own 200 volumes by May) and maybe some fantasy/fantastika as well, since I haven't really read much speculative fiction over the past couple of years due to burnout.  Doubt I'll resume a daily social media presence (reading Twitter 2-3 years ago was like listening to interminable arguments; even if I agreed, it was still tedious and all joy was sucked from me if I paid attention too long), but that's OK.

But for those few who still read my blog via whatever nefarious means that still exist, what are the speculative/fantasy books du jour that I'm missing out on due to not really paying attention this past year or two?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A few reading/blogging goals for 2017

So I've been a little quiet here the past few months.  Much of that is due to a positive change in my personal life, as I took a teaching position at a local residential treatment center for teens with neurological/emotional/behavior disorders.  It is a challenging profession and I am still in the midst of establishing my routines with them.  I am also working on a PRN basis at my old job working with teens with autism, so there are several weekends where I have little to no time to relax at home, much less read or blog about what I have read.

I do hope to change this somewhat in the next few weeks.  I purchased a new 9.7" iPad Pro today and it is much faster and more powerful than my ancient laptop, so I should be more inclined to type now that I don't have to worry so much about the screen freezing up (helps that I have paired a wireless Apple keyboard to it so I can type at my regular speed).  I do have a small backlog of 2016 reads to blog about, including posting the list of 46 books that I read last year.  I'll do that sometime tomorrow ow, as I am about to go to bed.

But before I do go to sleep, I just wanted to post a few reading goals that I have for 2017.  The first is that I hope to read at least 50 books this year, after failing to do so the past two years (my trained Serbian reading squirrels have enjoyed a long and well-deserved vacation after a decade of reading hundreds of books a year).  The second is to read and review at least a dozen Library of America editions (I own nearly 180 volumes and many haven't yet been read).  A third is to review at least twelve times this year, even if very few people these days visit my blog compared to its 2007-2012 heyday.  I think these are achievable goals and hopefully when the year ends, there will be more output here than was the case in 2015 or 2016.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A brief overview of 2016 releases read

Although I read slightly more books in 2016 compared to 2015 (46 to 41), I only completed six books that were first printed in the US this year (I have a couple others, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer's The Big Book of Science Fiction anthology and Nick Mamatas's I am Providence, to finish reading in the coming months).  I spent the majority of the year, reading slowly at my leisure around work and exercise training time 30 Library of America volumes, most of them histories, collected letters of the American Founding Fathers, and science writings by Loren Eiseley.  I am beginning to suspect this will be the new normal for me in regards to reading for the next few years, as I'm rediscovering older, mostly-forgotten loves and devoting 2-3 hours/day to reading just would be getting in the way.

Yet this does not mean that the few books published here in the US in 2016 that aren't fully reprinted material which I read didn't have some great stories in them.  No, although I didn't write reviews for four of the six books, that was in part because I found the time necessary to write fitting reviews for some of them to be rather wanting and by the time I did have more time, weeks or months had passed and I kept wanting to read something else rather than write a full-fledged review rather than a quick mention on Facebook.

But since 2016 ends for me in roughly an hour (and I have to wake up in 7 hours to work 4 hours before traveling to run my first 5K of 2017), I thought I would give a provisional "ranking" of these books, with a brief description for those curious about them:

6.  R. Scott Bakker, The Great Ordeal - reviewed back in July.

5.  Jack Kerouac, The Unknown Kerouac:  Rare, Unpublished & Newly Translated Writings - reviewed back in November.

4.  Lawrence Rosenwald, War No More:  Three Centuries of American Antiwar & Peace Writing - this Library of America anthology published this spring collects in one volume a very good selection of historical protests against war, along with the various strands of cultural thought that helped shaped diverse movements united by a common opposition to war as a means and as an end itself.

3.  Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers - originally published in 2015 in the UK, this June US release is short (barely 100 pages) but it packs the power of several gut punches as it traces a family's dealing with loss.  The quasi-lyrical arrangement of scenes adds greatly to what is already a powerfully poignant tale.

2.  Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El laberinto de los espíritus - I only finished this two nights ago, so I plan on writing a full review in the coming week or two.  I just need to dwell some more on some of the revleations made in this concluding volume to his four-part series.  What I do know is that the story, despite occasional raggedness in a few places, tied the previous volumes together in both surprising and long-expected ways.  More in the review itself.

1.  Elizabeth McKenzie, The Portable Veblen - longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award, this story contains a very important squirrel, which being a squirrel, automatically makes the book much better.  Leaving aside this bit of facetiousness, McKenzie's use of the squirrel in the midst of a young couple's internal and external conflicts is done adroitly, creating a multi-layered text that I will likely re-read again in 2017 before writing a formal review.  It is certainly the most memorable tale that I completed this year that was published then.

Hopefully my 2017 end-of-year list will contain more entries, but I think there is something here in this short list for many readers who might have diverse literary tastes.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Jack Kerouac, The Unknown Kerouac: Rare, Unpublished & Newly Translated Writings

I am French Canadian, born in New England.  When I am angry I often curse in French.  When I dream I often dream in French.  When I cry I always cry in French, and I say:  "I don't like it, I don't like it!"  It's my life in the world that I don't want.  But I have it.  I am still curious, I am still hungry, my health is excellent, I love my little woman, I am not afraid to walk far, I am not even afraid to work hard as long as I don't need to work 60 hours a week.  I can't get up in the morning but when I have to I get up.  I can work 40 hours a week if I like the job.  If I don't like it, I quit.

My family and my women have always helped me.  Without them, I think I may well have died in the snow somewhere – mayhap yes, mayhap no.  I never like alone for long.  I dream.  One day I will be a man like other men.  Today I am a child and I know it and I spend my time thinking.  I am supposed to be a writer.  I published a book, I received $1900.00 for 4 years of work on that book.  Before that I spent 10 years writing other things that I was never able to sell.  It's possible that one day, once I have gone over to the other side of the darkness to dream eternally, these things, stories, scenes, notes, a dozen impossible novels, half finished, will be published and someone will collect the money that was supposed to come to me.  But that's if I am a great writer before I die. (pp. 65-66; from the opening paragraphs to "The Night is My Woman" (originally written in French as La nuit est ma femme; translated by Jean-Christophe Cloutier, based on a partial self-translation by Kerouac))

Before The Road was La nuit est ma femme ("The Night is My Woman")Before the 1951 scroll version of The Road was transformed into the published novel, there was a short detour outlined in Sur le chemin ("Old Bull in the Bowery").  Before there was Jack Kerouac, Beat Generation writer, there was Jean-Louis Kérouac, a child of French Canadian immigrants to Lowell, Massachusetts, who did not learn to speak English until he was six and who continually inhabited spaces between two worlds, with his shared languages serving as a bridge and occasionally as a partial eraser of boundaries of thought and concept.  In the recently published Library of America volume, The Unknown Kerouac:  Rare, Unpublished & Newly Translated Writings, editor Todd Tietchen, with assistance from translator Jean-Christophe Cloutier, reveals through several never-before published (or translated) manuscripts, essays, and journal entries the various proto-Kerouacs that led to the final publication of The Road and to his latter works such as The Dharma Bums and Visions of Cody.

The Unknown Kerouac begins with a short five paragraph piece Kerouac wrote in a 1946 journal on his experience hearing Frank Sinatra sing live.  Tietchen introduces this short essay by noting how Kerouac's observation on how Sinatra's ability to vocalize moods of melancholy and loneliness may have had a connection to how Kerouac came to explore these same moods in his own writings shortly after.  The concluding sentence, does in a way, hint at what Kerouac, then 24 years old, would go on to explore in his writings, first journal pieces and later fiction:

To young America, serious, sad, and wistful [Sinatra's singing], it is no caterwauling, it is the poetry of its time, and in it, in the longing of Sinatra's soft tones and prayerful sustaining notes, is contained most of their own youthful melancholy. (p. 3)
Many of the pieces that follow during this early 1946-1950 period, such as "America in World History" and "Private Philogies, Riddles, and a Ten-Day Writing Log," reveals Kerouac's growing interests in Shakespeare, Joyce, Spenser, Rimbaud, and surrealism.  The writing in these essays and journals is full of staccato bursts of thought and energy, tightly constructed, with little verbiage to weaken the flow of images and reflections.  It is during this time that the nascent On the Road began to emerge, but it is a piece that lurks in the background of these writing logs, something that is nebulous, something toward which Kerouac is reaching toward, yearning to grasp, yet not then fully able to do so.  Contained within these journals are references to eschatological matters, to apocalypses both private and universal, to revelations that await their moment.  This is most evident in his "–Riddles–":

Answer this: –

Who is it from whose source of life flows blood, yet lives and laughs?
What is the beautiful sound that emanates from the house of the angels?
How may I encompass a star?


1.  A young child whose mother is menstruating.
2.  Church music, as a rule.
3.  By creating a puddle of my own in which I can catch the reflection of any planet. (pp. 49-50)
Yet these early pieces, critical as they may be to understanding Kerouac's mindset as he began work on The Road, provide only small glimpses of insight.  To a greater understanding of how his experiences helped shape and hone his concept of his most famous work, there are two short, embryonic texts originally composed in French, "Night is My Woman" and "Old Bull in the Bowery," the reveal the most about this "unknown" Kerouac.  Take the passage from "The Night is My Woman" quoted at the beginning of this review.  There we experience a narrative that in key aspects (tone and character) resemble that of On the Road.  Yet it is not Sal Paradise nor Dean Moriarty that we see here.  Instead it is a French Canadian-American narrator, one whose life mirrors so closely that of Kerouac's, whose narrative helped Kerouac realize just what sort of road/life voice he wanted to capture.  "The Night is My Woman" is an unfinished novella; there is no true conclusion, only a pause in the developing life of the narrator.  Yet even in its unfinished state, there is a palpable energy to the piece, albeit an uneven one, full of herky-jerky shifts in intensity.  It certainly is a fiction that makes the reader wish for a longer, more polished piece and considering that it is in origin a translated story (Kerouac did a partial translation, which Cloutier incorporates into his excellent translation) makes it all the more revealing about how Kerouac's use of language and imagery is in its origins a mediation of sorts between his conversing in English and dreaming in French.

"The Night is My Woman" likely served as a direct impetus for the 1951 "big scroll" version of On the Road, but between that draft and the final 1957 published edition, Kerouac continued to tinker with characters and their backstories.  In late 1952, he wrote a short account of Paradise and Moriarty during the Depression years over the course of five days (he would later do a partial translation in 1954 that was scattered in several notebooks during this time period) that became "Old Bull in the Bowery."  In it, Kerouac claimed to Neal Cassidy, could be found the "clues" to several narrative histories explored in On the Road.   While many of the themes introduced here did not make it into the final On the Road, two scenes from it were later inserted into Visions of Cody.  "Old Bull in the Bowery" is not as unified of a text as was "The Night is My Woman," yet despite the nearly inchoate nature of certain passages, it definitely reveals an author who dips again into his own adolescence in order to explore how to improve the setting, voice, and tenor of On the Road.

The remaining sections of The Unknown Kerouac contain more disjecta membra than anything else in that by themselves they do not reveal much that isn't already covered in the earlier sections in regards to Kerouac's thoughts and development of themes and characters in his 1950s fictions.  Yet there is one late manuscript, the 1968 fragment "Beat Spotlight," that was begun shortly before Kerouac's death.  In it can be seen Kerouac's ambivalence toward his fame and how others have interpreted his life through his fiction.  It abruptly ends too soon for much to be said definitely on its quality of prose or thought, but there certainly are enough glimpses here and there to make a reader regret that Kerouac never lived to finish this tale.  The Unknown Kerouac concludes with a 1940s noir novel that Kerouac and William S. Burroughs had begun in 1945, first titled And the Hippos were Boiled in Their Tanks, with Burroughs and Kerouac alternating chapters, before Kerouac began revising it later that year, changing its title to I Wish I Were You.  This short novel is a curiosity more than a good noir novel, although there are moments where Kerouac in the revised version published here does manage to capture a sense of place and time.  It is a curious coda, however, as the writing and thoughts expressed therein do not correlate well with the other pieces in this collection.  Despite being the longest fiction presented in The Unknown Kerouac, I Wish I Were You might be the weakest and least interesting piece published.  Although it is not outright poor, it certainly detracts from what otherwise was a very harmonious collection of newly-published (and translated) non-fiction and fiction that helps reveal quite a bit about one of the mid-20th century's most important American writers.  Despite this misstep at the end, however, The Unknown Kerouac certainly is a book that readers of Kerouac's more famous works might find to be essential to their understanding of Kerouac.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It's been a bit quiet here lately, I suppose...

It's been almost two months since my last post here, so I suppose I should provide a little update for those who might be wondering if I have abandoned this blog for good.  No, I still plan on blogging here whenever I get the chance, but the past few months haven't been all that conducive for writing reviews.  Not that all of the reasons for that are bad, per se, but they do hamper my ability/desire to type a thousand words or so on whatever comes to mind.

Foremost, I have been recovering from what is likely a torn ligament in my right ring finger that I suffered during a fall in a creek during a six mile trail race back on my birthday in mid-July.  I reaggravated that injury back in late August when I had to block a teen with autism from attacking me.  Lately, I have very little pain in it, only when I have to have a prolonged grip on heavy items, but I did have to avoid using it whenever possible, since my hand would cramp up faster than usual due to avoiding putting any weight-bearing pressure on it.  I am optimistic that I'll be able to resume heavier weight-lifting in the next few weeks, but first it seems I'll have to re-teach myself how to type with all ten digits, as I seem to be missing typing a few letters that I used to type with that finger.

I'm still very busy with run training.  I have 3-5 more races to run this year, including a possible 12K (7.4 mile) race in early December, before I begin training in earnest for running 2-3 half-marathons in 2017 (and a hopeful marathon and 50K in 2018).  This takes a lot of my free time, especially on weekends, so it's difficult to maintain the required focus necessary for me to read and write reviews and columns (trust me, if I had the time, I would have written a lengthy piece on my thoughts on Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature, but I just didn't have it in me this weekend), but at least I'm happy with training so far, even if it means a reduction in the pace of weight loss compared to last year or earlier this year (I have to eat more in order to fuel my body properly for these sessions; I've also had to add more muscle mass for greater endurance).

But there's another reason behind my recent semi-silence:  the current moods I see on social media exhaust me.  I've largely abandoned Twitter this year (reading it maybe 1-2 times a week for 5-10 minutes without responding for 1-3 months at a time) because the "book" conversations were so little about the books themselves and much more about the controversies du jour that I just found myself struggling to find a reason for even reading anything at all.  Might explain in part why for the past year I've read little but histories and other primary source material (largely drawn from my nearly 200 volumes of Library of America books), because there isn't the "noise" associated with those works that are associated with certain recent releases.  I hope to read more recent releases by year's end or early 2017, but I first need to achieve a greater, more proper distance between the work and whatever other people might be saying around, behind, and under the books themselves.

I must admit that it might be a blessing to have shed 90% of my former readership over the past six years.  There is that sense of greater freedom in being able to write about whatever might please me without having to worry or becoming annoyed at others who want to interject tangential opinions.  So if I don't feel like weighing in on whatever supposedly asinine and/or hurtful thing an author or "fan" wrote, I don't have to, since there should be no expectation of me "taking sides" if I consistently remain silent on such matters.  Instead, I might just write about the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the writings of three American Presidents (and Franklin and Hamilton).  That is what interests me now. 

But until I do, I think I'll just maintain mostly radio silence until I have the time, energy, and desire to write on those matters that interest me first and foremost.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Gordon S. Wood (ed.), The American Revolution: Writings from the Pamphlet Debate 1764-1776

Liberty is the greatest blessing that men enjoy, and slavery the heaviest curse that human nature is capable of. – This being so, makes it a matter of the utmost importance to men, which of the two shall be their portion.  Absolute Liberty is, perhaps, incompatible with any kind of government. – The safety resulting from society, and the advantage of just and equal laws, hath caused men to forego some part of their natural liberty, and submit to government.  This appears to be the most rational account of it's beginning; although, it must be confessed, mankind have by no means been agreed about it:  Some have found it's origin in the divine appointment:  Others have thought it took it's rise from power:  Enthusiasts have dreamed that dominion was founded in grace.  Leaving these points to be settled by the descendants of Filmer, Cromwell, and Venner, we will consider the British constitution, as it at present stands, on revolution principles; and, from thence endeavour to find the measure of the magistrate's power, and the people's obedience.

This glorious constitution, the best that ever existed among men, will be confessed by all, to be founded by compact, and established by consent of the people.  By this most beneficent compact, British subjects are to be governed only agreeable to laws to which themselves have some way consented, and are not to be compelled to part with their property, but as it is called for by the authority of such laws:  The former is truly liberty; the latter is really to be possessed of property, and to have something that may be called one's own.

– ("The Rights of Colonies Examined.", Stephen Hopkins, Providence, Rhode Island, 1765, vol. I, p. 125)

The American Revolution, as distinct from the War for American Independence, did not begin with a musket shot in Lexington, Massachusetts in April 1775.  Rather, it began a decade before with a war of ideas fought in newspapers and in pamphlets sold for a shilling.  There, colonial and imperial leaders held forth on issues of liberty, representation, and the limitations and virtues of the British constitution (and Parliamentary power) as it related to the original thirteen North American English colonies.  Both sides, the nascent Patriot and Loyalist/Imperial, often alluded to Greco-Roman orators as being the ultimate source for their arguments on these topics.  In hindsight, what was transpiring just over 250 years ago is rather amazing, as civil discourse became increasingly intertwined with violence (tarring and feathering, burning of officials' houses, the Boston Massacre of 1770, etc.) and yet until the very end the rhetoric never truly (with a few notable exceptions) directly alluded to these violent acts.  It was as though there were two conflicts being acted out simultaneously and yet never truly in concert with each other.

American historian Gordon S. Wood (author of the award-winning The Radicalism of the American Revolution) in this two-volume Library of America set, The American Revolution:  Writings from the Pamphlet Debate 1764-1776, has chosen 39 pamphlets published during the period between the passage of the Sugar Act and the Declaration of Independence that present the breadth and depth of the arguments made in favor or in opposition to increased American autonomy in the aftermath of the French and Indian War.  He prefaces each pamphlet with a short précis of the pamphlet's general arguments and later actions of the author.  These 1-2 page summaries help non-specialists get the gist of the arguments being presented, as there are times that the authors make so many allusions to classical writers and to legal aspects of the documents that comprise the British constitution that it can be difficult for some readers to grasp what exactly is being argued and why.

Yet a closer examination of these pamphlets and how Wood has juxtaposed them reveal some fascinating undercurrents.  In the preface to the pamphlet quoted above, Wood references Rhode Island's rather unique political system (rotation of the colonial capital among five towns, semiannual voting for assemblymen, a "modern" two party/faction system).  The information there makes Hopkins' observation about how absolute liberty might be incompatible with any form of government seem not just the abstract musing of a quasi-anarchist but rather a wry commentary from someone who is intimately versed in decentralized politics. 

Immediately following Hopkins' pamphlet is Martin Howard Jr.'s "A Letter from a Gentleman at Halifax, to his Friend in Rhode-Island, Containing Remarks upon a Pamphlet, Entitled, The Rights of Colonies Examined."  This pamphlet is not just a point-by-point response to "Rights of the Colonies Examined," but it also is one of the earliest and most forceful defenses of the Imperial viewpoint that the colonies by their very foundation by people of English descent have submitted themselves to the strictures of the English constitution:

Our personal rights, comprehending those of life, liberty and estate, are secured to us by the common law, which is every subject's birthright, whether born in Great-Britain, on the ocean, or in the colonies, and it is in this sense we are said to enjoy all the rights and privileges of Englishmen.  The political rights of the colonies, or the powers of government communicated to them, are more limited, and their nature, quality and extent depend altogether upon the patent or charter which first created and instituted them.  As individuals, the colonists participate of every blessing the English constitution can give them.  As corporations created by the crown, they are confined within the primitive views of their institution.  Whether therefore their indulgence is scanty or liberal, can be no cause of complaint; for when they accepted of their charters, they tacitly submitted to the terms and conditions of them. (I, pp. 150-151)

Howard, as part of a faction that wanted to revoke Rhode Island's charter and have its radically democratic colonial assembly come under direct royal control, came under direct attack during the Stamp Act protests and he later had to flee to England to avoid physical harm.  These threats, including those made to the royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, lie as a dark shadow upon the arguments presented during this time.  In the case of Hutchinson, a native of Massachusetts, he became one of the most hated men in North America because of his principled stance in favor of continued union with England, even as more and more colonial leaders and thinkers, especially after 1770, began to advocate autonomy, if not outright independence, as a solution for the problems surrounding representation and taxation.  In his January 1773 speech to the Massachusetts Assembly, Hutchinson outlines his opposition to this increasingly popular viewpoint:

If what I have said shall not be sufficient to satisfy such as object to the Supreme Authority of Parliament over the Plantations, there may something further be added to induce them to an Acknowledgment of it which I think will well deserve their Consideration.  I know of no Line that can be drawn between the supreme Authority of Parliament and the total Independence of the Colonies.  It is impossible there should be two independent Legislatures in one and the same State, for although there may be but one Head, the King, yet the two Legislative Bodies will make two Governments as distinct as the Kingdoms of England and Scotland before the Union.  If we might be suffered to be altogether independent of Great-Britain, could we have any Claim to the Protection of that Government of which we are no longer a Part?  Without this Protection should we not become the Prey of one or the other Powers of Europe, such as should first seize upon us?  Is there any Thing which we have more Reason to dread than Independence?  I hope it will never be our Misfortune to know by Experience the Difference between the Liberties of an English Colonist and those of the Spanish, French or Dutch. (II, p. 10)
As reasoned as Hutchinson's speech may be, he could not fathom truly the depth of desire for separation.  For him and other future Loyalists, Parliament was the protector of freedoms and to reject parliamentary suzerainty was tantamount to abandoning security in a wild goose chase for liberty unmoored from centuries of traditions accreting around the acts and documents that comprised the English constitution.  Therefore, the response made by certain members of the Massachusetts Assembly, including future American leaders John Hancock and John Adams, likely baffled him in their rejection of this view of Parliament being the protector of English and colonial freedoms:

We fully agree with your Excellency, that our own Happiness as well as his Majesty's Service, very much depends upon Peace and Order, and we shall at all Times take such Measures as are consistent with our Constitution and the Rights of the People to promote and maintain them.  That the Government at present is in a very disturbed State is apparent!  But we cannot ascribe it to the People's having adopted unconstitutional Principles, which seems to be the Cause assigned for it by your Excellency.  It appears to us to have been occasioned rather, by the British House of Commons assuming and exercising a Power inconsistent with the Freedom of the Constitution, to give and grant the Property of the Colonists, and appropriate the same without their Consent. (II, p. 24)

This grounding of the main points of contention within this perceived usurpation of constitutional power by Parliament set the framework for later arguments during the people immediately preceding and following the Battles of Lexington and Concord two years later.  Most of the subsequent pamphlets in the second volume follow, in their support or dissent, upon the premises established here.  By 1776, the argument had switched from a direct focus on Parliament's regulatory power in the colonies to a debate on the source from whence liberty and popular representation commenced.  Wood does an excellent job in weaving these strands together to present a powerful argument that the American Revolution did not begin with a shot but instead with a thorough debate, via printed media, on the origins of political powers and human rights.  Although this debate had occurred over a century before during the English Revolution through the use of broadsides (and later, the English Civil War), these ideas found their mature expression during the 1764-1776 gestation period that led to the birth of the Declaration of Independence, one of the most important documents written in world history.  What followed after was messy, with consequences that still affect us today.  The American Revolution:  Writings from the Pamphlet Debate 1764-1776 serves as a excellent look at these written documents that spawned the modern representative republic form of government now seen in much of the world today.

Add to Technorati Favorites