Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tyler Family Jewels

I didn't know it until about two years ago, while unpacking more of the articles left to me by my dad's death, but he had his own silver ware as a child:

 Note the "T" on the handle of the utensils (which are, by the way, baby-sized):
 Dad was not technically a "Second," since his father's name was George Horsley Tyler and Dad's was just George Tyler. But the shorthand in the Tyler family was always George I, George II, and George III (for my half-brother, George Moreland):
 The silver cup had an assortment of exotic animals etched in it:
Neither of my kids ever wanted to eat out of it . . . I'm not sure what's going to happen to it. Maybe I'll have it melted down for something.

~ emrys

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Freedom's Apostle

"These are the times that try men's souls . . ." These words of Thomas Paine's helped stir a generation of English subjects to throw off the mantle of royal rule and vie for independence. Though many of us, myself included, have filled in Thomas Paine's name on a high school history test or two, I had never read about Thomas Paine's life as a whole.

In Tom Paine: Freedom's Apostle (1957), Leo Gurko presents an accessible and engaging portrait of Thomas Paine. Gurko's expertise is literature, and this story, without footnotes or references, reads much less like academic history and more like a novella. While I am certain that some ambiguities about the reported events receive a glossing, and that some quite specific details have been inferred, Gurko's work cuts a genuine and compelling figure of the sometimes paradoxical life and career of Thomas Paine.

As with most other historical works I have read, Freedom's Apostle makes me realize how simple my understanding of history remains. To cite one example: Thomas Paine's fluid movement between England, America, and France during his lifetime betrays my mental caricature of three nations and cultures so discrete that never twain shall meet but over the tips of swords. Thomas Paine could be a primary agitator and champion of the American Revolution, yet a decade later be a resident of London, England, and five years later be considered a beloved citizen of France.

Another tension that continues to fascinate me, especially in the current generation of "polarized politics," is the contrast between liberal Deists, such as Paine and Jefferson, and orthodox Federalists. The government--and, more importantly, culture--of the United States was forged between the anvil of firebrand conservatives and the hammer of rationalist liberals. I am slowly forming the hypothesis that those who believe America's birth came from harmonious thinking and unified effort prefer not to examine the foundation of their beliefs.

As for Paine himself, Gurko challenges me to see him not just as a brilliant author, but also as a manic loner, with an addiction to explosive cultural crises, a passion for Reason and a gift for eloquence. On such enigmas of the human spirit does the wheel of history turn.

To those who relish vivid and fast-moving accounts which nonetheless illuminate the complexities of history, I recommend Tom Paine: Freedom's Apostle.

~ emrys