29 October 2023

French Bishop, Indian Guide

From Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather (Project Gutenberg, 2023; Knopf, 1927), Book 3, Chapter 2:

TAKING leave of Isleta and its priest early in the morning, Father Latour and his guide rode all day through the dry desert plain west of Albuquerque. It was like a country of dry ashes; no juniper, no rabbit brush, nothing but thickets of withered, dead-looking cactus, and patches of wild pumpkin—the only vegetation that had any vitality. It is a vine, remarkable for its tendency, not to spread and ramble, but to mass and mount. Its long, sharp, arrow-shaped leaves, frosted over with prickly silver, are thrust upward and crowded together; the whole rigid, up-thrust matted clump looks less like a plant than like a great colony of grey-green lizards, moving and suddenly arrested by fear.

As the morning wore on they had to make their way through a sand-storm which quite obscured the sun. Jacinto knew the country well, having crossed it often to go to the religious dances at Laguna, but he rode with his head low and a purple handkerchief tied over his mouth. Coming from a pueblo among woods and water, he had a poor opinion of this plain. At noon he alighted and collected enough greasewood to boil the Bishop's coffee. They knelt on either side of the fire, the sand curling about them so that the bread became gritty as they ate it.

The sun set red in an atmosphere murky with sand. The travellers made a dry camp and rolled themselves in their blankets. All night a cold wind blew over them. Father Latour was so stiff that he arose long before day-break. The dawn came at last, fair and clear, and they made an early start.

About the middle of that afternoon Jacinto pointed out Laguna in the distance, lying, apparently, in the midst of bright yellow waves of high sand dunes—yellow as ochre. As they approached, Father Latour found these were petrified sand dunes; long waves of soft, gritty yellow rock, shining and bare except for a few lines of dark juniper that grew out of the weather cracks,—little trees, and very, very old. At the foot of this sweep of rock waves was the blue lake, a stone basin full of water, from which the pueblo took its name.

The kindly Padre at Isleta had sent his cook's brother off on foot to warn the Laguna people that the new High Priest was coming, and that he was a good man and did not want money. They were prepared, accordingly; the church was clean and the doors were open; a small white church, painted above and about the altar with gods of wind and rain and thunder, sun and moon, linked together in a geometrical design of crimson and blue and dark green, so that the end of the church seemed to be hung with tapestry. It recalled to Father Latour the interior of a Persian chieftain's tent he had seen in a textile exhibit at Lyons. Whether this decoration had been done by Spanish missionaries or by Indian converts, he was unable to find out.

The Governor told him that his people would come to Mass in the morning, and that there were a number of children to be baptized. He offered the Bishop the sacristy for the night, but there was a damp, earthy smell about that chamber, and Father Latour had already made up his mind that he would like to sleep on the rock dunes, under the junipers.

Jacinto got firewood and good water from the Lagunas, and they made their camp in a pleasant spot on the rocks north of the village. As the sun dropped low, the light brought the white church and the yellow adobe houses up into relief from the flat ledges. Behind their camp, not far away, lay a group of great mesas. The Bishop asked Jacinto if he knew the name of the one nearest them.

"No, I not know any name," he shook his head. "I know Indian name," he added, as if, for once, he were thinking aloud.

"And what is the Indian name?"

"The Laguna Indians call Snow-Bird mountain." He spoke somewhat unwillingly.

"That is very nice," said the Bishop musingly. "Yes, that is a pretty name."

"Oh, Indians have nice names too!" Jacinto replied quickly, with a curl of the lip. Then, as if he felt he had taken out on the Bishop a reproach not deserved, he said in a moment: "The Laguna people think it very funny for a big priest to be a young man. The Governor say, how can I call him Padre when he is younger than my sons?"

There was a note of pride in Jacinto's voice very flattering to the Bishop. He had noticed how kind the Indian voice could be when it was kind at all; a slight inflection made one feel that one had received a great compliment.

"I am not very young in heart, Jacinto. How old are you, my boy?"


"Have you a son?"

"One. Baby. Not very long born."

Jacinto usually dropped the article in speaking Spanish, just as he did in speaking English, though the Bishop had noticed that when he did give a noun its article, he used the right one. The customary omission, therefore, seemed to be a matter of taste, not ignorance. In the Indian conception of language, such attachments were superfluous and unpleasing, perhaps.

They relapsed into the silence which was their usual form of intercourse. The Bishop sat drinking his coffee slowly out of the tin cup, keeping the pot near the embers. The sun had set now, the yellow rocks were turning grey, down in the pueblo the light of the cook fires made red patches of the glassless windows, and the smell of piñon smoke came softly through the still air. The whole western sky was the colour of golden ashes, with here and there a flush of red on the lip of a little cloud. High above the horizon the evening-star flickered like a lamp just lit, and close beside it was another star of constant light, much smaller.

Jacinto threw away the end of his cornhusk cigarette and again spoke without being addressed.

"The ev-en-ing-star," he said in English, slowly and somewhat sententiously, then relapsed into Spanish. "You see the little star beside, Padre? Indians call him the guide."

The two companions sat, each thinking his own thoughts as night closed in about them; a blue night set with stars, the bulk of the solitary mesas cutting into the firmament. The Bishop seldom questioned Jacinto about his thoughts or beliefs. He didn't think it polite, and he believed it to be useless. There was no way in which he could transfer his own memories of European civilization into the Indian mind, and he was quite willing to believe that behind Jacinto there was a long tradition, a story of experience, which no language could translate to him. A chill came with the darkness. Father Latour put on his old fur-lined cloak, and Jacinto, loosening the blanket tied about his loins, drew it up over his head and shoulders.

"Many stars," he said presently. "What you think about the stars, Padre?"

"The wise men tell us they are worlds, like ours, Jacinto."

The end of the Indian's cigarette grew bright and then dull again before he spoke. "I think not," he said in the tone of one who has considered a proposition fairly and rejected it. "I think they are leaders—great spirits."

"Perhaps they are," said the Bishop with a sigh. "Whatever they are, they are great. Let us say Our Father, and go to sleep, my boy."

Kneeling on either side of the embers they repeated the prayer together and then rolled up in their blankets. The Bishop went to sleep thinking with satisfaction that he was beginning to have some sort of human companionship with his Indian boy. One called the young Indians "boys," perhaps because there was something youthful and elastic in their bodies. Certainly about their behaviour there was nothing boyish in the American sense, nor even in the European sense. Jacinto was never, by any chance, naïf; he was never taken by surprise. One felt that his training, whatever it had been, had prepared him to meet any situation which might confront him. He was as much at home in the Bishop's study as in his own pueblo—and he was never too much at home anywhere. Father Latour felt he had gone a good way toward gaining his guide's friendship, though he did not know how.

The truth was, Jacinto liked the Bishop's way of meeting people; thought he had the right tone with [rich] Padre Gallegos, the right tone with [poor] Padre Jesus, and that he had good manners with the Indians. In his experience, white people, when they addressed Indians, always put on a false face. There were many kinds of false faces; Father Vaillant's, for example, was kindly but too vehement. The Bishop put on none at all. He stood straight and turned to the Governor of Laguna, and his face underwent no change. Jacinto thought this remarkable.

28 October 2023

The Bishop Meets Kit Carson

From Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather (Project Gutenberg, 2023; Knopf, 1927), Book 2, Chapter 2:

St. Vrain and his friend got together a search-party at once. They rode out to Scales's place and found the remains of four men buried under the corral behind the stable, as the woman had said. Scales himself they captured on the road from Taos, where he had gone to look for his wife. They brought him back to Mora, but St. Vrain rode on to Taos to fetch a magistrate.

There was no calabozo in Mora, so Scales was put into an empty stable, under guard. This stable was soon surrounded by a crowd of people, who loitered to hear the blood-curdling threats the prisoner shouted against his wife. Magdalena was kept in the Padre's house, where she lay on a mat in the corner, begging Father Latour to take her back to Santa Fé, so that her husband could not get at her. Though Scales was bound, the Bishop felt alarmed for her safety. He and the American notary, who had a pistol of the new revolver model, sat in the sala and kept watch over her all night.

In the morning the magistrate and his party arrived from Taos. The notary told him the facts of the case in the plaza, where everyone could hear. The Bishop inquired whether there was any place for Magdalena in Taos, as she could not stay on here in such a state of terror.

A man dressed in buckskin hunting-clothes stepped out of the crowd and asked to see Magdalena. Father Latour conducted him into the room where she lay on her mat. The stranger went up to her, removing his hat. He bent down and put his hand on her shoulder. Though he was clearly an American, he spoke Spanish in the native manner.

"Magdalena, don't you remember me?"

She looked up at him as out of a dark well; something became alive in her deep, haunted eyes. She caught with both hands at his fringed buckskin knees.

"Christobal!" she wailed. "Oh, Christobal!"

"I'll take you home with me, Magdalena, and you can stay with my wife. You wouldn't be afraid in my house, would you?"

"No, no, Christobal, I would not be afraid with you. I am not a wicked woman."

He smoothed her hair. "You're a good girl, Magdalena—always were. It will be all right. Just leave things to me."

Then he turned to the Bishop. "Señor Vicario, she can come to me. I live near Taos. My wife is a native woman, and she'll be good to her. That varmint won't come about my place, even if he breaks jail. He knows me. My name is Carson."

Father Latour had looked forward to meeting the scout. He had supposed him to be a very large man, of powerful body and commanding presence. This Carson was not so tall as the Bishop himself, was very slight in frame, modest in manner, and he spoke English with a soft Southern drawl. His face was both thoughtful and alert; anxiety had drawn a permanent ridge between his blue eyes. Under his blond moustache his mouth had a singular refinement. The lips were full and delicately modelled. There was something curiously unconscious about his mouth, reflective, a little melancholy,—and something that suggested a capacity for tenderness. The Bishop felt a quick glow of pleasure in looking at the man. As he stood there in his buckskin clothes one felt in him standards, loyalties, a code which is not easily put into words but which is instantly felt when two men who live by it come together by chance. He took the scout's hand. "I have long wanted to meet Kit Carson," he said, "even before I came to New Mexico. I have been hoping you would pay me a visit at Santa Fé."

The other smiled. "I'm right shy, sir, and I'm always afraid of being disappointed. But I guess it will be all right from now on."

This was the beginning of a long friendship.

On their ride back to Carson's ranch, Magdalena was put in Father Vaillant's care, and the Bishop and the scout rode together. Carson said he had become a Catholic merely as a matter of form, as Americans usually did when they married a Mexican girl. His wife was a good woman and very devout; but religion had seemed to him pretty much a woman's affair until his last trip to California. He had been sick out there, and the Fathers at one of the missions took care of him. "I began to see things different, and thought I might some day be a Catholic in earnest. I was brought up to think priests were rascals, and that the nuns were bad women,—all the stuff they talk back in Missouri. A good many of the native priests here bear out that story. Our Padre Martinez at Taos is an old scapegrace, if ever there was one; he's got children and grandchildren in almost every settlement around here. And Padre Lucero at Arroyo Hondo is a miser, takes everything a poor man's got to give him a Christian burial."

The Bishop discussed the needs of his people at length with Carson. He felt great confidence in his judgment. The two men were about the same age, both a little over forty, and both had been sobered and sharpened by wide experience. Carson had been guide in world-renowned explorations, but he was still almost as poor as in the days when he was a beaver trapper. He lived in a little adobe house with his Mexican wife. The great country of desert and mountain ranges between Santa Fé and the Pacific coast was not yet mapped or charted; the most reliable map of it was in Kit Carson's brain. This Missourian, whose eye was so quick to read a landscape or a human face, could not read a printed page. He could at that time barely write his own name. Yet one felt in him a quick and discriminating intelligence. That he was illiterate was an accident; he had got ahead of books, gone where the printing-press could not follow him. Out of the hardships of his boyhood—from fourteen to twenty picking up a bare living as cook or mule-driver for wagon trains, often in the service of brutal and desperate characters—he had preserved a clean sense of honour and a compassionate heart. In talking to the Bishop of poor Magdalena he said sadly: "I used to see her in Taos when she was such a pretty girl. Ain't it a pity?"

The degenerate murderer, Buck Scales, was hanged after a short trial.

27 October 2023

Cromwell, Coffee, and a Synagogue

From The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England, 1603-1689, by Jonathan Healey (Knopf Doubleday, 2023), Kindle pp. 307-308:

Tulips, anemones and irises were not the only exotic commodities taking hold in Cromwell’s England, either. In 1657, a London jury prosecuted James Farr, a barber, ‘for making and selling a drink called coffee whereby in making the same he annoyeth his neighbours by evil smells’. Coffeeshops had appeared in Oxford in 1650, where it had been drunk in the university in the 1640s, and in London in 1652 (opened by an Armenian).

Far from being the international pariah it had been in 1649, England was now opening itself up to the world, with London the centre of a growing empire of trade and power. Cromwell’s most remarkable project, though, was to make England welcoming to the world’s Jews. In 1655, the chief rabbi of Amsterdam, Manasseh Ben Israel, had arrived in London. Lodging on the Strand, he was entertained by Cromwell, who agreed to try and facilitate the readmission of Jews to England, largely because he hoped to convert them and thus usher in the Second Coming. In the end, Cromwell was blocked by a combination of the self-interests of English merchants and the anti-Semitism of his political class. However, because the expulsion in 1290 had been by royal decree, Cromwell could use his Protectoral power to reassure Jewish representatives that they wouldn’t be prosecuted. The rabbi himself was given a state salary of £100 a year, a burial ground for Jews was purchased and a synagogue on Creechurch Lane became established from 1657, where it remains today, in the heart of the City.

26 October 2023

Status of Moldova, 2006

From Bessarabia: German Colonists on the Black Sea, by Ute Schmidt, trans. by James T. Gessele (Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, 2011), pp. 363-364:

To this day, the Republic of Moldova, with its population of about 4.5 million people, remains the poorest of European countries. In 2002 it still ranked behind Albania, which, however, received four times the international monetary aid. In 2006 the per capita gross domestic product was a 991 US dollars (the comparative figure for Germany was at 34,433 US dollars). The world's largest steel mill on the Dniester that once employed ten thousand workers has virtually fallen silent. The once-flourishing "vegetable and fruit garden and vineyard of Russia" lies fallow in many places. Its rich soils are depleted and overfertilized, its water polluted. As always, Moldova belongs to the ten largest wine producers in the world but has tried in vain to gain a foothold in the international market. Until recently, more than 90 percent of Moldovan wine production was exported to Russia. For that reason, Russia's 2006 declared import ban has hit the Moldovan wine industry quite hard. The Republic of Moldova is therefore trying even more to intensify relations with the European Union; it strives for integration into the European structure as an independent partner. Germany is one of Moldova's most important trade partners. Several German firms have already become successfully engaged in the region.

Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of young people still seek employment abroad. In recent years, almost 300,000 Moldovans have obtained Romanian passports, giving them freedom of travel. More than anyone, the elite (e.g., academics and physicians) are moving away. Hospital conditions are a catastrophe; tuberculosis and hepatitis are rampant. On the other hand, one finds a considerable number of Western luxury limousines and sports cars on Chișinău's boulevards. Apparently a stratum of the nouveau riches is doing profitable business, e.g., in smuggling cigarettes, gasoline or with weapons out of Transnistria. Until early March 2006, there was no customs check between Transnistria and Moldova, allowing goods from Ukraine to flow into the country unhindered. As a result, the country lost an immense amount of tax collections. An especially lucrative business for the criminal circle—here subsumed under the name "Mafia"—is apparently white slave trade. Ostensibly, according to press reports, up to thirty thousand young women and girls have been placed in western and central European brothels in recent years.

The capital Chișinău has changed its appearance. Old Jewish residential districts on the city center's edge were torn down over large areas from the close of the 1980s through the early 1990s and replaced by apartment buildings and arterial roads. Many large-scale projects ventured earlier now stand as abandoned ruins. Meanwhile, one can observe how with American support a new beginning of Jewish life is developing in the city. American youth groups of the Jewish movement Chabad assisted in the revival of a small district with Jewish facilities around a synagogue, which is conducted by the Lubavitch Hassidic school of thought.

In the heart of the old city Chișinău, behind high walls and relatively unnoticed by city dwellers and tourists, there is the house that Russian poet Alexander Pushkin occupied from 1820 to 1823 during his banishment to Kishinev. Here today is a small, lovingly appointed museum that houses witness to all phases of the poet's life. Within sight of the building resided his protector, Governor of Bessarabia, General Inzov, of whose palace not a single trace remains today.

25 October 2023

Britain's 1653 Constitution

From The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England, 1603-1689, by Jonathan Healey (Knopf Doubleday, 2023), Kindle pp. 285-286:

The Instrument of Government provided for government by a single person, Lord Protector Cromwell, who was to be assisted by a Council of State and regular Parliaments. The fuller republicanism of the Rump and Barebone’s Parliaments was replaced by something different: a semblance at least of the old monarchical constitution from before the regicide. Yet there was no House of Lords, and both the franchise and the old constituency map were drastically reformed. Now, any man with property worth £200 or more (save active Royalists or Catholics) could vote, while growing towns like Manchester and Leeds were given representation, at the expense of rotten boroughs. MPs would sit in Westminster from Ireland and Scotland, as had been the case with Barebone’s Parliament. England and Wales remained over-represented, though, with 400 MPs. Scotland and Ireland had 30 each, even though in population terms they should probably have had twice that number each.

It was a constitution based on checks and balances. Cromwell, said the lawyer Bulstrode Whitelocke when asked about it on a diplomatic mission to Sweden, would only have the ‘limited power of a chief magistrate’. Parliaments, meanwhile, were to be summoned at least once every three years, and last at least five months, but the very existence of the Instrument as a written constitution limited their power, as well as that of the Protector. The Protector had a temporary veto over legislation (though this could be overturned by a second vote). Critically, the Instrument enshrined religious toleration. There were to be no penalties to compel people to any particular faith (Clause 36); instead, ‘endeavours be used to win them by sound doctrine and the example of a good conversation’. Meanwhile, all ‘such as profess faith in God by Jesus Christ’ were to be protected in their worship (Clause 37), so long as they eschewed ‘papacy and prelacy’, i.e. Catholicism and bishops, and so long as they didn’t disturb others. It was an imperfect toleration, no doubt, but it was still remarkably broad by the standard of the day.

Whatever its merits, though, the Instrument always had its enemies. To republicans, it was a transfer of power to a single person, Cromwell, and offensive to the ideals of the kingless commonwealth. They looked in horror at the Protector’s partial veto over the will of Parliament. To conservatives, on the other hand, it was an attack on the ‘ancient constitution’, and too liberal in its provision for religious tolerance. Most fundamental of all, to civilians, it was a constitution that had come directly from the Army rather than from Parliament. Its origins lay in the politicisation of the New Model Army in 1647, not in the ancient constitution or consent from the representatives of the people. John Lambert, though undoubtedly one of the greatest political intellects of the day, remained to many civilians just a plain old Yorkshire gentleman, and not a very prominent one at that. Worse, he remained a soldier.

24 October 2023

Cromwell Defeats the Levellers, 1649

From The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England, 1603-1689, by Jonathan Healey (Knopf Doubleday, 2023), Kindle pp. 259-261:

Levellers in the Army were close to open defiance. Things began in London, where a young trooper named Robert Lockyer – just twenty-three years old yet a veteran of Naseby – staged a minor act of insubordination. He was arrested and publicly shot in St Paul’s churchyard, on the insistence of Fairfax. His funeral was another occasion for grand Leveller public propaganda, attended by thousands.

But if the Army command hoped this act of swift brutality would quell the discontent, they were quite wrong, for by the early days of May, an uprising was already under way in the west. For the second time, the Levellers were attempting to win control of the New Model Army.

The mutiny began in Salisbury, and within weeks there was an unauthorised Leveller rendezvous at Abingdon in Berkshire. News reached Cromwell, so he gathered his forces in London and addressed them in Hyde Park. Some Leveller sympathisers had turned up with sea-green ribbons in their hats. But Cromwell talked them down. Any who wished not to fight could be discharged with their arrears paid; the rest would have to head out to the west, to face down the rebels. In all, he and Fairfax left London with five regiments: two cavalry and three foot.

It was a formidable force, and the Levellers had little choice but to retreat, especially as their numbers dwindled and as supporters melted away into the countryside. First, the Levellers were trapped near Newbridge, on the Thames, so they pulled back along the quiet River Windrush, through the Oxfordshire countryside, towards the small market town of Burford in the low dip slope of the Cotswolds.

It was here that Cromwell caught up. A midnight attack through the town did what it needed to do, and, despite a brief show of resistance, the Levellers were corralled into the great medieval parish church. In all, around 300 were kept there overnight, one of them scratching his name into the wall: ‘Anthony Sedley. 1649. Prisner.’ In the morning, the mutineers were pardoned, save three – a corporal, a cornet and a private soldier, who were taken out of the church, into the open air, and shot.

The Levellers had been defeated. The revolution was not to be theirs. As Cromwell’s soldiers packed up to leave Burford, the town could get back to the rhythms of springtime. While the lambs cried in the nearby pastures and the wood pigeons called out from the resplendent trees, Private Church, Cornet Thompson and Corporal Perkins were buried in the soil of Burford churchyard. Another quiet corner of England, manured with the blood of its people.

In the course of some 19 months, the New Model Army – increasingly Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army as Fairfax shrank back from politics – had defeated the Levellers, the social radicals within its own ranks, the Royalists, the Scots and its enemies in the Long Parliament. In just four years, a force led not by aristocrats but by members of the lower gentry and middling sort had crushed all before it, overthrown an ancient monarchy and carried out a revolution in the name of the English people. Military conquests in Ireland and Scotland lay ahead, of course. But now, with the Army’s allies in what remained of Parliament, the main challenge was going to be to govern, to bring peace and stability to a country torn apart by seven years of war, while protecting the religious congregations that had flourished but which were still viewed with great suspicion by most of the country. It was a daunting task.

23 October 2023

England Becomes a Republic, 1649

From The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England, 1603-1689, by Jonathan Healey (Knopf Doubleday, 2023), Kindle pp. 256-257:

From morning the next day [30 January], a huddled crowd gathered outside the grand Banqueting House at Whitehall, where a scaffold had been hastily thrown up, draped in black and surrounded by troops and their horses. But there was a delay. Why? Nobody in the crowd knew. At last, at around two in the afternoon, there was movement. As the crowd watched, Charles Stuart appeared, accompanied by Juxon. After a short speech, and a few formalities, he lay his head down on the low block in front of him, gave a signal and the executioner cut off his head. As the axe fell, a terrible groan came forth from the assembled crowd. Within half an hour, the troops had cleared them all away.

A week later, the Commons abolished the monarchy. The ‘office of a king,’ they declared, ‘is unnecessary, burdensome, and dangerous to the liberty, safety, and public interest of the people of this nation; and therefore ought to be abolished’. The reason it took a week to abolish the monarchy was that the Rump was busy with another matter – what to do with the House of Lords. In the end, they plumped for abolition of this, too: declaring it ‘useless and dangerous’, although not before a debate in which Henry Marten quipped that it was ‘useless, but not dangerous’.

News of the king’s execution filtered out to a stunned nation.


Was this what the wars had been fought for? Virtually no one, in 1642, let alone 1640, had envisaged the execution of the king and the abolition of the kingly office. To get this far, events had taken on a life of their own, driven by political accidents and unfathomable decisions. Charles himself must carry much of the blame: he had been a stuffy authoritarian, but never ruthless enough to be a successful tyrant. He had emerged as a competent – even charismatic – leader, though we must take care to separate the charisma of the man from that of his office. But he was only ever successful at inspiring those who already agreed with him, and his pathological inability to understand his opponents’ position would cost him dear. His great opportunity had been in 1647, when he could have accepted Ireton’s Heads [proposing a constitutional monarchy], and marched into London, garlanded by a grateful New Model Army. Parliament would surely have fallen in line, and a new, tolerant Church could have been created, with room for both Independent prayer meetings and the old Book of Common Prayer. It would have left a balanced constitution with regular parliaments. But instead Charles tried to hold out for a better deal, costing him his own head and – much more importantly – the blood of countless thousands of innocent people.

19 October 2023

New Model Democracy Debates, 1647

From The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England, 1603-1689, by Jonathan Healey (Knopf Doubleday, 2023), Kindle pp. 229-231:

The most startling development ... was the appearance around the end of September of new agitators, 16 in all, across five cavalry regiments. On 18 October, two of their number got an audience with Fairfax, where they presented him with a forceful, if rather convoluted, manifesto. Called The Case of the Army Truly Stated, it was probably written – at least in part – by a twenty-five-year-old ex-soldier named John Wildman. Fiercely bright and iron-cast in his convictions, he had the knowing sneer of exactly the kind one would expect of a man with the motto Nil Admirari – ‘Let nothing surprise you’. He was someone perpetually convinced that those in power would turn out to be hypocrites. And to be fair they frequently did.

The Case had been signed by the New Agitators at Guildford a few days earlier. It castigated the grandees and the General Council for their political failures. Power, it claimed, was originally vested in the people and their representatives. The current Parliament should be dissolved within ten months, followed by a general election in which all Englishmen aged twenty-one and over – except Royalists – should have the vote. It also demanded liberty of conscience and drastic reform of the law.

Soon, The Case of the Army was available to buy on London’s streets. This was dangerous stuff, but Fairfax – perhaps against his better judgement – agreed to discuss it at the next General Council, due to sit on the 21st. At that Council, the Case was referred to a committee, expected to produce a stern rebuttal. Instead, it wrote to the New Agitators and asked them ‘in a friendly way’ to attend the next General Council, scheduled for Thursday 28 October. It was to be a monumental decision.

The day before this meeting was due to take place, one of Cromwell’s soldiers, Robert Everard, was at the Army headquarters at Putney. Here he presented yet another document. The leadership were expecting to discuss the Case, but what Everard brought was something completely different. It was a short pamphlet – just a few pages – approved the same day at a meeting between the New Agitators, Wildman and some other civilian radicals.

Its pages contained a strident statement of first principles. Parliament was sovereign – there was no mention of the king or the Lords – but it could not override certain basic rights: freedom of religion, freedom from conscription and equality before the law. These could never be given away by the people: they were inalienable. There should, meanwhile, be biennial Parliaments, inferior in authority only to the electorate itself. Crucially, it suggested that the franchise should be reformed so that constituencies reflected not tax contribution – as in the Heads – but the number of people. It was a document of quite fundamental radicalism: based on the premise that the defeat of the king – and the ‘Norman Yoke’ he represented – had left the people a blank slate on which to scrawl their own, new, rational and equitable laws. Even the document’s name conveyed its democratic character: it was an Agreement of the People, and its approval by the whole population, the authors hoped, would form the basis of a new English democracy.

18 October 2023

Parliament's New Model Army Officers, 1645

From The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England, 1603-1689, by Jonathan Healey (Knopf Doubleday, 2023), Kindle pp. 195-197:

The central political issue at Westminster was now the future of the Parliamentarian armies. The failure, of the old aristocratic generals, particularly Essex and Manchester, were creating serious unease about the leadership of the forces, but the issues ran deeper than this. Aristocrats like Essex were increasingly uncomfortable with the apparently democratic direction of their own side. That December, when the Lords were prevaricating over [Bishop] Laud, the Commons suggested that delay would lead to popular disorder. Essex was appalled, worrying that they were replacing ‘the yoke of the king’ with that of ‘the common people’. ‘I am determined,’ he announced, ‘to devote my life to repressing the audacity of the people.’

Manchester, meanwhile, was in the process of falling out dramatically with his most successful subordinate, Oliver Cromwell. The differences were religious, political and temperamental. The earl was a Presbyterian who valued the existing social order. Cromwell was a fiery radical, an Independent, and had rather less respect for hierarchy. Manchester fought in order to bring the king to a negotiated settlement, Cromwell to bring him to defeat.

More to the point, though, the rich aristocrats weren’t getting results in the field, so they were losing the argument at Westminster. In Parliament, hardliners, linked to the religious Independents and drawn from the war group, were pushing for radical reform of the forces. They were blocked by the more conservative ‘Presbyterians’, who drew on the peace party and were allied to the Scots. Eventually the debate resulted in an ordinance for ‘Self-Denying’, decreeing that no member of either House could hold a commission in the forces. The Lords blocked it, so attention then fell on another bill, this time to create a national army – drawn largely from the old Eastern Association – with central funding. It was to be a ‘New Model’: 22,000 strong: 14,400 infantry all in the same uniform, ‘Redcoats all’, with two musketeers to every pike; 6,600 cavalry, 1,000 dragoons. Its commander was to be the thirty-two-year-old Thomas Fairfax who though somewhat inexperienced and indeed occasionally unsuccessful on the field, was politically tepid and therefore acceptable to both Presbyterians and Independents. The experienced Philip Skippon, a hero of the European wars and of Turnham Green, was to lead the infantry. The command of the cavalry was left open, for the time being, though many MPs had a particular name in mind.

In April 1645, the Lords finally passed the Self-Denying Ordinance: this version forced everyone to resign their commission but left open the possibility of reappointment. Beneath the veneer of compromise, this was a profoundly important step: the old nobility, traditionally the military leaders of the country, were being sidelined in favour of professional soldiers like Fairfax and Skippon. As the William Lilly put it that year, ‘The nobility and gentry who have continued many generations are sinking and an inferior sort of people … are ascending.’ The New Model officer corps was made up of soldiers promoted by reason of their skill and zeal, not their birth. If they were gentry, they were from relatively minor families: men like John Lambert, Henry Ireton or Charles Fleetwood. Not poor men, by any means, and they often shared the experience of Oxbridge and the Inns of Court, but neither were they especially wealthy or well connected. And many of the New Model officers, like the firebrand Thomas Harrison and the yeoman’s son Thomas Pride, were drawn from outside the gentry entirely.

Then there was Oliver Cromwell. He was the man many MPs expected to take command of the cavalry. Although his position in the new army wasn’t yet secure – he was still an MP, of course – for many he was emblematic of that ‘inferior sort of people’. Born in 1599, he was in his mid-forties, with an ungainly face, fierce blue eyes and a hot temper. He was known for promoting comrades for talent rather than social position: ‘I had rather,’ he once wrote, ‘have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a Gentleman and is nothing else.’ He himself was, as he put it, ‘by birth a gentleman, living neither in any considerable height, nor yet in obscurity’, although his wife, Elizabeth Bourchier, came from a wealthy Essex family. After a brief spell at Cambridge, young Cromwell had suffered severe melancholy in his later twenties. Come the 1630s he was a farmer, and his income had fallen to around £100 a year. By that time he’d also experienced a Calvinist ‘conversion’, bringing a belief that he was one of the elect. His views at this point were probably those of a country Puritan: fiercely anti-Laudian and anti-Catholic. But in the course of a war in which he tramped the country as part of a disciplined force of cavalry ‘ironsides’, his views moved strongly towards Independency, and he was developing a deep distrust in the idea that state officers should force religious practices on the people.

17 October 2023

Bessarabian German Fates

From Bessarabia: German Colonists on the Black Sea, by Ute Schmidt, trans. by James T. Gessele (Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, 2011), pp. 1-5:

The Germans in Bessarabia were the last of an emigrant band that resettled in Russia over the course of an eighteenth–nineteenth century state-sponsored colonization effort. After Russia's defeat of the of the Turks in 1812, Czar Alexander beckoned foreign colonists to his country to "peuplate" the deserted southern expanse of the newly conquered province of Bessarabia and to bring about economic development of the region along the Black Sea's northwestern coast. Over a span of 125 years, the foreign settlers predominantly from Southwestern Germany established more than 150 thriving communities and daughter colonies on a fertile but otherwise desolate plain. They were planted in the middle of a multi-ethnic population where they managed to lead a life of peaceful coexistence.

At the close of World War I, the lives of Bessarabian Germans took a different turn than that of their other German-Russian brethren. Their region fell under Romanian authority in 1918, not under Soviet rule. The Bessarabian Germans—at that time almost eighty thousand people—now were part of the German ethnics of Greater Romania, a population segment that in the years between the two world conflicts came to encompass roughly 750,000 Germans, translating into about 4 percent of Romania's total population.

Bessarabian Germans, Bukovinian and Dobrujan Germans, Transylvania (Siebenbürgen) Saxons, Banat and Satu Mare (Sathmar) Swabians—all openly differentiated themselves in their history of origin and settlement as well as denominational and social composition, in cultural mintage, in ways of doing business and in mentality. Unlike in Transylvania, an urban middle-class culture had not come into its own in the relatively short settlement period of the Bessarabian Germans. Up until the resettlement of 1940, farming defined their way of life; they always looked upon themselves as "colonists." In a rural, pietist-steeped culture, playing a leading role were pastors, teachers, as well as academics and other notables.

The history of German settlement in Bessarabia came to an abrupt end in 1940. A Soviet ultimatum in late June that year compelled the Romanians to clear out of the region within three days. On June 28, 1940, the Red Army marched into Bessarabia and North Bukovina. The premise for the Soviet annexation was the less than year-old Non-Aggression Treaty of August 23, 1939—the so-called Hitler-Stalin Pact—drawn up between the National Socialist German Reich and the Stalinist USSR. An appending "secret protocol" to this treaty contained agreements between both countries concerning limits on their spheres of political influence in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. The protocol's German representative, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, made clear his government's "total political disinterest" in Bessarabia.

The Soviet Union's occupation now fully realized in June 1940, Bessarabia's German population (about 93,500 people) faced expulsion from their homeland. Based on a September 5, 1940 German-Soviet resettlement accord regarding Bessarabian and North Bukovinian Germans, as early as October–November 1940 the evacuation had been completed by members of the Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle (Ethnic German Liaison Office of "VoMi") and the SS. The resettlers endured transport on Danube boats to interim camps in Yugoslavia [Serbia] and then by rail to almost eight hundred different "observation camps" in the "Old Reich," in Austria and the Sudetenland. After extended encampment, the Bessarabian Germans—as Germans from the Baltic States, from Volhynia and Galicia before them—were resettled 1941–42 for the most part in German Wehrmacht-occupied Poland. Not long after, in January 1945, they—like millions of refugees from other countries of origin—fled westward from an approaching Soviet army. Thus the Bessarabian Germans were equally resettlers and refugees, for prior to their episode of flight, by being uprooted from their homeland they had experienced a massive breakdown of connectedness which was then followed in 1945 by a greater, catastrophic fall.

Landing in postwar Germany, most Bessarabian Germans were drawn to Swabia, the one-time home to most of their forefathers. Others settled in  the British Occupation Zone, mostly in Lower Saxony. Many fugitive Bessarabian Germans, whose arduous sojourns became bogged down in northern and central Germany, remained as refugee Neubauer* [*small farmers in the Soviet Occupation Zone who were settled on limited, newly created 5- to 8-hectare plots carved out of expropriated but uncompensated private estate land] in the Communist East Zone of that time, where so-called democratic agrarian reform appeared to foster a resumption of their rural way of life. Nevertheless, the laboriously restored farms were lost again in the wake of the German Democratic Republic's agrarian collectivization in the 1950s and 1960s. Not a few Bessarabian Germans emigrated overseas in postwar years, mostly to Canada and the U.S., in search of a new home.

Though Bessarabian German integration into German Federal Republic (West Germany) society was accompanied by almost complete occupational reorientation, it has long since been deemed a success. All the same, it demanded an extreme measure of adaptability from resettlers originally cast in a rural environment and now catapulted into a postwar industrial society. Because the Bessarabian Germans dared not view their circumstances as temporary—unlike for other refugees and expellees, any hope of return to the former homeland was ruled out—they had no other choice that to build a new way of life under the given conditions as quickly as possible. In this process, they were aided by the idea that they, having taken a long historic detour, really had come full circle and were returning to their ancient homeland.

Today the former German Bessarabian settlement area is split in two and belongs to Moldova and Ukraine [and Transnistria].

16 October 2023

Soviet Occupation of Bessarabia, 1940

From Bessarabia: German Colonists on the Black Sea, by Ute Schmidt, trans. by James T. Gessele (Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, 2011), pp. 305-308:

The people of Bessarabia heard the news of a Soviet ultimatum on radio the evening before the invasion. It created profound shock in the German villages that soon paralyzed the entire country. It appeared that the Germans in Bessarabia would now meet the very same fate that they had escaped in 1918 by a stroke of luck. For years their friends and relatives on the other side of the Dniester kept them meticulously informed of the catastrophic effects of Soviet agrarian policies, collectivization and kulak persecutions, about famine and massive dying, political repression and deportation. The uncertainty over their future was enormous.

Gradually it leaked out that the German government was negotiating an evacuation, intending to transfer Germans in Bessarabia and North Bukovina to the German Reich. A precedent had been set in the fall of 1939 with the evacuation of about 67,000 Baltic Germans from Estonia and Latvia. In the winter of 1939–40, German resettlement commandos had removed an additional 130,000 Germans from Volhynia, Galicia and the Narev region towards the West across the new demarcation line.

In fact, a German delegation, residing in Moscow since July 22, 1940, was negotiating over the transfer of the population. On September 5, 1940, the "German-Soviet Russian Agreement Regarding the Resettlement of Germans from Bessarabia and North Bukovina" was signed. As news of this reached the German communities, it was greeted with an overwhelming sigh of relief. Meanwhile, during a better than two-month interval of excruciating uncertainty, it became clear to most of the Bessarabian Germans that the Soviet invasion meant the end of independent farming and a colonist culture founded on it for over five generations. as they had come to know it.

Agreeing to resettlement from their trusted home to a highly uncertain future required of the Bessarabian Germans a difficult decision. Especially for the older ones, evacuation meant a fundamental interruption to their way of life as they knew it that would demand of them and their families even more difficult adjustments ahead. On the other hand, they had no alternative if they wanted to avoid living in a Soviet sphere of power and partaking in the fate of other German colonists in the remaining Black Sea region—collectivization, deprivation of rights and deportation.

All the same, officers of the invading troops had generally treated the German population correctly. The promise of security that Molotov had made to the German government was largely adhered to. That was not true for the other nationalities. While the Germans were hardly bothered by the Soviet secret police (GPU)—except for isolated harassment or arrest—they were forced to observe how their affluent Russian, Jewish or Bulgarian neighbors were hauled off to interrogations—mostly at night—and often never heard of again. The German pastor, Erwin Meyer of the Leipzig, Bessarabia parish, wrote in his April 1941 personal essay:

"Almost none of the Germans were deported—many of the Russians, Bulgarians and well-to-do Jews were, however, taken away. Nothing was done to us, the pastors, but the Orthodox clergy had to immediately remove their vestments, cut their hair and shave off their beards—as was the case in Ismail. None of us Germans were evicted from our homes, but other nationalities were. German property was either not seized or returned immediately, but not in the case of others. Factories, mills and churches were not nationalized until shortly before our departure. We have German protection to thank for this." (Jachomowski 1984, 61–62)

Not just fear of harassment from the Soviet secret police, but also the grave changes in everyday life in the wake of the Soviet occupation spurred on in the German villages a willingness to resettle. Shortages, mismanagement, deprivation of personal liberties and reprisals were on the horizon. Within a short time, consumer goods such as fabrics, notions, leather goods, sugar, salt, kerosene and tobacco were in short supply or available only at ever-increasing prices. The German community officials were dismissed and new village soviets formed. Local committees were placed under the jurisdiction of regional committees in which Russian communists set the agenda. The business world was also restructured. All private business was dissolved. Larger industrial firms and commercial enterprises remained largely intact but were placed under new managers. Even the German Commercial Association in Artsiz was reorganized after a Soviet model.

In contrast to this creeping dispossession, the property of German farmers, including large estate farmers, was not touched for the moment. They continued going about their work but were under the supervision of the village soviets. Soviet officials insisted that the harvest still be brought in before resettlement and, using absurd measures and harassment, often pressed hard against the work tempo and farming methods. The imposed and arbitrarily fixated taxes frequently exceeded the farmer's proceeds but still had to be paid. Quickly, the accusation of sabotage came into play. Relatives and neighbors banded together to help out those farmers who had gotten into difficulties.

Church life and Stundist Brethren gatherings went mostly unhindered. Of course, holidays falling on work days were banned and, during the harvest, work had to be done on Sundays, too. In light of the profound disruptions in the lives of the German communities, Pastor Erwin Meyer came to the conclusion in his previously mentioned essay that "all rules and concepts, order and traditions and self-evident assumptions in living together with people" had been "turned upside down in the Soviet state."

15 October 2023

Soviets Annex Bessarabia, 1940

From Bessarabia: German Colonists on the Black Sea, by Ute Schmidt, trans. by James T. Gessele (Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, 2011), pp. 304-305:

Soviet government officials never relinquished their claim to the region between the Prut and Dniester Rivers, for them a strategic area given up to Romania in 1918 because of Russia's military weakness at the close of World War I. Indeed, Bessarabia was a fertile hinterland to the Black Sea harbor of Odessa, a checkpoint at the mouth of the Danube and bridgehead for a Soviet presence in Southeast Europe.

Providing a crucial premise for the Soviet's seizure of Bessarabia was the non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union. It was signed on August 23, 1939, in Moscow by representatives of both countries. In the course of agreeing to "delimitation of bilateral spheres of interest in East Europe," established in a Supplemental Secret Protocol in the accord, German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop accepted that Estonia, Latvia and Finland should be added to the Soviet sphere of influence. He went on to declare Germany's "total political disinterest" in Bessarabia.

After the Moscow agreements, the USSR's annexation of Bessarabia was only a matter of time. On June 26, 1940, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov presented the Romanian envoy in Moscow an ultimatum in which he demanded that the Romanian government relinquish Bessarabia as well as the northern part of Bukovina to the USSR and leave the country within three days. The Romanian government was forced to bow to the Soviet demand after its petition for help in Berlin had been turned down.

On June 28 the Red Army marched into Bessarabia and North Bukovina. Even though the Romanian government had feared a Soviet offensive for some time, it was surprised by the invasion. By the first day, the quickly advancing Soviet vanguard had occupied the most important cities—Cetatea Albă in the south, Chișinău in the center and Chernivtsi (Chernowitz) in the north—and plunged the retreating Romanians into hopeless confusion. Fleeing Romanian government officials and armed forces feverishly took to their heels. Along the way, they grabbed at any sort of transportation—horses and teams—they could get their hands on in order to get themselves and their heavily loaded wagons to safety on the other side of the Prut. Romanian squadrons in retreat were constantly overtaken by Russian parachutists and tanks. In the chaotic retreat there were isolated attacks from bands of civilians. The invading, crack Soviet troops soon had everything under control.

14 October 2023

Bessarabian German Food Names

From Bessarabia: German Colonists on the Black Sea, by Ute Schmidt, trans. by James T. Gessele (Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, 2011), pp. 382-83:

Arbuse, harbus (Turkish/Russian) = watermelon

Baklashan, patletshane (Turkish/Russian), blue patletshane = eggplant (In some places tomatoes were referred to as red patletshane.)

Bliny (Russian) = blintzes, leavened pancakes

Borsch (Russian) = Russian cabbage and vegetable soup (red, white or green borsch)

Brynza (Romanian/Russian) = sheep's milk cheese

Kalva, halva, "halvik" (Turkish/Russian) = sweet made from pressed hazelnuts or sesame seed with honey

Kolbasa, kalbas (Russian) sausage ("kolbasniki" = Russian nickname for Germans)

Makhorka, "makhorke" (Russian) = strong tobacco

Mamaliga, mamalig, mamlik (Romanian) = corn meal gruel, polenta

Maslina, masline (Russian) = olive

Pirogi, piroshki (Russian) = meat-filled pastries

Plachinta, plachenta (Romanian) = flat cake, baked dough with fruit filling (e.g., pumpkin, "pumpkin plachinta")

Pomidori, pomadoren (French/Italian/Russian) = tomatoes

Popshoi, popshe (Romanian) = corn (popshoi pratzeln = to shell corn)

Shassla (French) = a wine variety (chasselas)

Tsibeben (Arabic/Italian) = raisins

Varenye (Russian) = fruit preserves, marmalade

Vereniki (Russian) = crescent pocket dumplings filled with meat, berries or curd cheese, also Maultaschen

Zakuska (Russian) = snack, hors d'oeuvre

12 October 2023

Bessarabian German Invectives

From Bessarabia: German Colonists on the Black Sea, by Ute Schmidt, trans. by James T. Gessele (Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, 2011), pp. 384-85:

Baba (Russian) = old woman, mommy, grandma—also translated as a lethargic person: "Des isch doch a alte Baba ... (That's a tired old grandma.)"

Bagash (French/Russian) = baggage—also translated as riffraff: "Des isch a Bagasch! (What a bunch of riffraff!)"

Barysh, "barisch" (Turkish/Russian) = profit—"Der hat sein Getreide mit gutem Barisch verkauft. (He sold his grain at a good profit.)"

Besplatno (Russian) = free of charge—"Des mache mir ihm besplatno ... (I'll do that for him free of charge.)"

Bog (Russian) = God (deep sigh): "Bozhe moi" = "Mein Gott (My God!)"

Burshui (French/Russian) = rich burgher, bourgeois, teasingly used against a well-to-do colonist—"Isch des a Burshui. (What a bourgeois he is.)"

Chakai malka (Bulgarian) = "Halt mal!" "Wart mal!" ("Wait. Hold up.")

Chërt (Russian) = the devil—"Chërt znaet! (Only the devil knows!)" or "Chërt vozny! (The devil take it!)

Dozhd (Russian) = rain—" 'S doschdelt. (It's raining.)"

Fladira, fladiere (French) = to flatter, to court a girl—"Meinst Du, ich fladier 'Dich ...? (Do you think I'm flirting with you?)"

Gor'ko (Russian) = bitter (At weddings people shouted "gor'ko" and the bridal couple had to kiss.)

Gulyat' (Russian) = play, celebrate, living devil-may-care, dawdle, waste money—"Wir haben g'hulait. (We really caroused.)"

Heide! Hei! (Turkish) = Come! Go! Forward!

Karaul, karavul (Turkish/Russian/Yiddish) = a call for help—"No han i aber Karaul g'schrie ... (That's when I called for help.)"

Khlopochnik (from Russian verb khlopotat') = to bustle about = busybody—"Die klaportiert den ganzen Tag. (She's constantly puttering around.)"

Khlopoty, "klapott" (Russian) = troubles, difficulties—"Mit dem hat sein Klapott" (He causes us nothing but trouble.)

Kryschka (Russian) = an end or a limit, in the sense of "Basta" or "That's enough." (When one has talked too long or made clumsy excuses, one says, "Nu kryschka!")

Mamlik (Romanian) = cornmeal mush (also translated as "a weak-willed person"): "Des isch a Mamlikhaufa ... (What a bunch of cowards!)"

Moire(s), "Mores" (Yiddish) = fear, dread—"Er hat Moires ... (He has his anxieties.)"

Muzhik (Russian) = peasant, a simple person—"Des isch halt a Muschik ... (What a simpleton.)"

Passleta(n) (French) = waste of time, a pastime

Plencha (Romanian) = to cry—"Was penscht Du scho' wieder ...? (What are you crying about again?)"

Podruchik (Russian) = arm-in-arm—"Er isch mit dem Mädle podrutschik ganga ... (He walked arm-in-arm with the girl.)"

Poshol (Russian) = Forward!—"Poschli! (Let's go!)"

Prost, prostoi (Russian) = simple, ordinary; "proste Leut" = ordinary people—"Bei mir geht es halt prost zu ... (My life is really ordinary.)"

Semechki (Russian) = sunflower seeds (also translated as trivialities, meaningless details—"Des sin mir sematschki ... (Those are mere trifles to me.)"

Shutka, shutke (Russian) = joke or prank—"Er versteht kei' Schutka ... (He has no sense of humor.)"

11 October 2023

Social Mobility on the Great Plains

From My Ántonia, by Willa Cather (Houghton Mifflin, 1924), Book 2, Chapter IX:

THERE was a curious social situation in Black Hawk. All the young men felt the attraction of the fine, well-set-up country girls who had come to town to earn a living, and, in nearly every case, to help the father struggle out of debt, or to make it possible for the younger children of the family to go to school.

Those girls had grown up in the first bitter-hard times, and had got little schooling themselves. But the younger brothers and sisters, for whom they made such sacrifices and who have had "advantages," never seem to me, when I meet them now, half as interesting or as well educated. The older girls, who helped to break up the wild sod, learned so much from life, from poverty, from their mothers and grandmothers; they had all, like Ántonia, been early awakened and made observant by coming at a tender age from an old country to a new. I can remember a score of these country girls who were in service in Black Hawk during the few years I lived there, and I can remember something unusual and engaging about each of them. Physically they were almost a race apart, and out-of-door work had given them a vigor which, when they got over their first shyness on coming to town, developed into a positive carriage and freedom of movement, and made them conspicuous among Black Hawk women.

That was before the day of High-School athletics. Girls who had to walk more than half a mile to school were pitied. There was not a tennis court in the town; physical exercise was thought rather inelegant for the daughters of well-to-do families. Some of the High-School girls were jolly and pretty, but they stayed indoors in winter because of the cold, and in summer because of the heat. When one danced with them their bodies never moved inside their clothes; their muscles seemed to ask but one thing—not to be disturbed. I remember those girls merely as faces in the schoolroom, gay and rosy, or listless and dull, cut off below the shoulders, like cherubs, by the ink-smeared tops of the high desks that were surely put there to make us round-shouldered and hollow-chested.

The daughters of Black Hawk merchants had a confident, uninquiring belief that they were "refined," and that the country girls, who "worked out," were not. The American farmers in our county were quite as hard-pressed as their neighbors from other countries. All alike had come to Nebraska with little capital and no knowledge of the soil they must subdue. All had borrowed money on their land. But no matter in what straits the Pennsylvanian or Virginian found himself, he would not let his daughters go out into service. Unless his girls could teach a country school, they sat at home in poverty. The Bohemian and Scandinavian girls could not get positions as teachers, because they had had no opportunity to learn the language. Determined to help in the struggle to clear the homestead from debt, they had no alternative but to go into service. Some of them, after they came to town, remained as serious and as discreet in behavior as they had been when they ploughed and herded on their father's farm. Others, like the three Bohemian Marys, tried to make up for the years of youth they had lost. But every one of them did what she had set out to do, and sent home those hard-earned dollars. The girls I knew were always helping to pay for ploughs and reapers, brood-sows, or steers to fatten.

One result of this family solidarity was that the foreign farmers in our county were the first to become prosperous. After the fathers were out of debt, the daughters married the sons of neighbors,—usually of like nationality,—and the girls who once worked in Black Hawk kitchens are to-day managing big farms and fine families of their own; their children are better off than the children of the town women they used to serve.

I thought the attitude of the town people toward these girls very stupid. If I told my schoolmates that Lena Lingard's grandfather was a clergyman, and much respected in Norway, they looked at me blankly. What did it matter? All foreigners were ignorant people who couldn't speak English. There was not a man in Black Hawk who had the intelligence or cultivation, much less the personal distinction, of Ántonia's father. Yet people saw no difference between her and the three Marys; they were all Bohemians, all "hired girls."

I always knew I should live long enough to see my country girls come into their own, and I have. To-day the best that a harassed Black Hawk merchant can hope for is to sell provisions and farm machinery and automobiles to the rich farms where that first crop of stalwart Bohemian and Scandinavian girls are now the mistresses.

The Black Hawk boys looked forward to marrying Black Hawk girls, and living in a brand-new little house with best chairs that must not be sat upon, and hand-painted china that must not be used. But sometimes a young fellow would look up from his ledger, or out through the grating of his father's bank, and let his eyes follow Lena Lingard, as she passed the window with her slow, undulating walk, or Tiny Soderball, tripping by in her short skirt and striped stockings.

The country girls were considered a menace to the social order. Their beauty shone out too boldly against a conventional background. But anxious mothers need have felt no alarm. They mistook the mettle of their sons. The respect for respectability was stronger than any desire in Black Hawk youth.

Our young man of position was like the son of a royal house; the boy who swept out his office or drove his delivery wagon might frolic with the jolly country girls, but he himself must sit all evening in a plush parlor where conversation dragged so perceptibly that the father often came in and made blundering efforts to warm up the atmosphere. On his way home from his dull call, he would perhaps meet Tony and Lena, coming along the sidewalk whispering to each other, or the three Bohemian Marys in their long plush coats and caps, comporting themselves with a dignity that only made their eventful histories the more piquant. If he went to the hotel to see a traveling man on business, there was Tiny, arching her shoulders at him like a kitten. If he went into the laundry to get his collars, there were the four Danish girls, smiling up from their ironing-boards, with their white throats and their pink cheeks.

The three Marys were the heroines of a cycle of scandalous stories, which the old men were fond of relating as they sat about the cigar-stand in the drug-store. Mary Dusak had been housekeeper for a bachelor rancher from Boston, and after several years in his service she was forced to retire from the world for a short time. Later she came back to town to take the place of her friend, Mary Svoboda, who was similarly embarrassed. The three Marys were considered as dangerous as high explosives to have about the kitchen, yet they were such good cooks and such admirable housekeepers that they never had to look for a place.

The Vannis' tent brought the town boys and the country girls together on neutral ground. Sylvester Lovett, who was cashier in his father's bank, always found his way to the tent on Saturday night. He took all the dances Lena Lingard would give him, and even grew bold enough to walk home with her. If his sisters or their friends happened to be among the onlookers on "popular nights," Sylvester stood back in the shadow under the cottonwood trees, smoking and watching Lena with a harassed expression. Several times I stumbled upon him there in the dark, and I felt rather sorry for him. He reminded me of Ole Benson, who used to sit on the draw-side and watch Lena herd her cattle. Later in the summer, when Lena went home for a week to visit her mother, I heard from Ántonia that young Lovett drove all the way out there to see her, and took her buggy-riding. In my ingenuousness I hoped that Sylvester would marry Lena, and thus give all the country girls a better position in the town.

Sylvester dallied about Lena until he began to make mistakes in his work; had to stay at the bank until after dark to make his books balance. He was daft about her, and every one knew it. To escape from his predicament he ran away with a widow six years older than himself, who owned a half-section. This remedy worked, apparently. He never looked at Lena again, nor lifted his eyes as he ceremoniously tipped his hat when he happened to meet her on the sidewalk.

So that was what they were like, I thought, these white-handed, high-collared clerks and bookkeepers! I used to glare at young Lovett from a distance and only wished I had some way of showing my contempt for him.

08 October 2023

An Austrian Immigrant's Hard Luck

From My Ántonia, by Willa Cather (Houghton Mifflin, 1924), Book I, Chapter IX:

Fuchs had been a cowboy, a stage-driver, a bar-tender, a miner; had wandered all over that great Western country and done hard work everywhere, though, as grandmother said, he had nothing to show for it. Jake was duller than Otto. He could scarcely read, wrote even his name with difficulty, and he had a violent temper which sometimes made him behave like a crazy man—tore him all to pieces and actually made him ill. But he was so soft-hearted that any one could impose upon him. If he, as he said, "forgot himself" and swore before grandmother, he went about depressed and shamefaced all day. They were both of them jovial about the cold in winter and the heat in summer, always ready to work overtime and to meet emergencies. It was a matter of pride with them not to spare themselves. Yet they were the sort of men who never get on, somehow, or do anything but work hard for a dollar or two a day.

On those bitter, starlit nights, as we sat around the old stove that fed us and warmed us and kept us cheerful, we could hear the coyotes howling down by the corrals, and their hungry, wintry cry used to remind the boys of wonderful animal stories; about gray wolves and bears in the Rockies, wildcats and panthers in the Virginia mountains. Sometimes Fuchs could be persuaded to talk about the outlaws and desperate characters he had known. I remember one funny story about himself that made grandmother, who was working her bread on the bread-board, laugh until she wiped her eyes with her bare arm, her hands being floury. It was like this:—

When Otto left Austria to come to America, he was asked by one of his relatives to look after a woman who was crossing on the same boat, to join her husband in Chicago. The woman started off with two children, but it was clear that her family might grow larger on the journey. Fuchs said he "got on fine with the kids," and liked the mother, though she played a sorry trick on him. In mid-ocean she proceeded to have not one baby, but three! This event made Fuchs the object of undeserved notoriety, since he was traveling with her. The steerage stewardess was indignant with him, the doctor regarded him with suspicion. The first-cabin passengers, who made up a purse for the woman, took an embarrassing interest in Otto, and often inquired of him about his charge. When the triplets were taken ashore at New York, he had, as he said, "to carry some of them." The trip to Chicago was even worse than the ocean voyage. On the train it was very difficult to get milk for the babies and to keep their bottles clean. The mother did her best, but no woman, out of her natural resources, could feed three babies. The husband, in Chicago, was working in a furniture factory for modest wages, and when he met his family at the station he was rather crushed by the size of it. He, too, seemed to consider Fuchs in some fashion to blame. "I was sure glad," Otto concluded, "that he did n't take his hard feeling out on that poor woman; but he had a sullen eye for me, all right! Now, did you ever hear of a young feller's having such hard luck, Mrs. Burden?"

Grandmother told him she was sure the Lord had remembered these things to his credit, and had helped him out of many a scrape when he did n't realize that he was being protected by Providence.

06 October 2023

Two Social Exiles Emigrate

From My Ántonia, by Willa Cather (Houghton Mifflin, 1924), Book I, Chapter VIII:

When Pavel and Peter were young men, living at home in Russia, they were asked to be groomsmen for a friend who was to marry the belle of another village. It was in the dead of winter and the groom's party went over to the wedding in sledges. Peter and Pavel drove in the groom's sledge, and six sledges followed with all his relatives and friends.

After the ceremony at the church, the party went to a dinner given by the parents of the bride. The dinner lasted all afternoon; then it became a supper and continued far into the night. There was much dancing and drinking. At midnight the parents of the bride said good-bye to her and blessed her. The groom took her up in his arms and carried her out to his sledge and tucked her under the blankets. He sprang in beside her, and Pavel and Peter (our Pavel and Peter!) took the front seat. Pavel drove. The party set out with singing and the jingle of sleigh-bells, the groom's sledge going first. All the drivers were more or less the worse for merry-making, and the groom was absorbed in his bride.

The wolves were bad that winter, and every one knew it, yet when they heard the first wolf-cry, the drivers were not much alarmed. They had too much good food and drink inside them. The first howls were taken up and echoed and with quickening repetitions. The wolves were coming together. There was no moon, but the starlight was clear on the snow. A black drove came up over the hill behind the wedding party. The wolves ran like streaks of shadow; they looked no bigger than dogs, but there were hundreds of them.

Something happened to the hindmost sledge: the driver lost control,—he was probably very drunk,—the horses left the road, the sledge was caught in a clump of trees, and overturned. The occupants rolled out over the snow, and the fleetest of the wolves sprang upon them. The shrieks that followed made everybody sober. The drivers stood up and lashed their horses. The groom had the best team and his sledge was lightest—all the others carried from six to a dozen people.

Another driver lost control. The screams of the horses were more terrible to hear than the cries of the men and women. Nothing seemed to check the wolves. It was hard to tell what was happening in the rear; the people who were falling behind shrieked as piteously as those who were already lost. The little bride hid her face on the groom's shoulder and sobbed. Pavel sat still and watched his horses. The road was clear and white, and the groom's three blacks went like the wind. It was only necessary to be calm and to guide them carefully.

At length, as they breasted a long hill, Peter rose cautiously and looked back. "There are only three sledges left," he whispered.

"And the wolves?" Pavel asked.

"Enough! Enough for all of us."

Pavel reached the brow of the hill, but only two sledges followed him down the other side. In that moment on the hilltop, they saw behind them a whirling black group on the snow. Presently the groom screamed. He saw his father's sledge overturned, with his mother and sisters. He sprang up as if he meant to jump, but the girl shrieked and held him back. It was even then too late. The black ground-shadows were already crowding over the heap in the road, and one horse ran out across the fields, his harness hanging to him, wolves at his heels. But the groom's movement had given Pavel an idea.

They were within a few miles of their village now. The only sledge left out of six was not very far behind them, and Pavel's middle horse was failing. Beside a frozen pond something happened to the other sledge; Peter saw it plainly. Three big wolves got abreast of the horses, and the horses went crazy. They tried to jump over each other, got tangled up in the harness, and overturned the sledge.

When the shrieking behind them died away, Pavel realized that he was alone upon the familiar road. "They still come?" he asked Peter.


"How many?"

"Twenty, thirty—enough."

Now his middle horse was being almost dragged by the other two. Pavel gave Peter the reins and stepped carefully into the back of the sledge. He called to the groom that they must lighten—and pointed to the bride. The young man cursed him and held her tighter. Pavel tried to drag her away. In the struggle, the groom rose. Pavel knocked him over the side of the sledge and threw the girl after him. He said he never remembered exactly how he did it, or what happened afterward. Peter, crouching in the front seat, saw nothing. The first thing either of them noticed was a new sound that broke into the clear air, louder than they had ever heard it before—the bell of the monastery of their own village, ringing for early prayers.

Pavel and Peter drove into the village alone, and they had been alone ever since. They were run out of their village. Pavel's own mother would not look at him. They went away to strange towns, but when people learned where they came from, they were always asked if they knew the two men who had fed the bride to the wolves. Wherever they went, the story followed them. It took them five years to save money enough to come to America. They worked in Chicago, Des Moines, Fort Wayne, but they were always unfortunate. When Pavel's health grew so bad, they decided to try farming.

Pavel died a few days after he unburdened his mind to Mr. Shimerda, and was buried in the Norwegian graveyard. Peter sold off everything, and left the country—went to be cook in a railway construction camp where gangs of Russians were employed.

05 October 2023

English–Czech First Encounter

From My Ántonia, by Willa Cather (Houghton Mifflin, 1924), pp. 28-30:

While Krajiek was translating for Mr. Shimerda, Ántonia came up to me and held out her hand coaxingly. In a moment we were running up the steep drawside together, Yulka trotting after us.

When we reached the level and could see the gold tree-tops, I pointed toward them, and Ántonia laughed and squeezed my hand as if to tell me how glad she was I had come. We raced off toward Squaw Creek and did not stop until the ground itself stopped—fell away before us so abruptly that the next step would have been out into the tree-tops. We stood panting on the edge of the ravine, looking down at the trees and bushes that grew below us. The wind was so strong that I had to hold my hat on, and the girls skirts were blown out before them. Ántonia seemed to like it; she held her little sister by the hand and chattered away in that language which seemed to me spoken so much more rapidly than mine. She looked at me, her eyes fairly blazing with things she could not say.

"Name? What name?" she asked, touching me on the shoulder. I told her my name, and she repeated it after me and made Yulka say it. She pointed into the gold cottonwood tree behind whose top we stood and said again, "What name?"

We sat down and made a nest in the long red grass. Yulka curled up like a baby rabbit and played with a grasshopper. Ántonia pointed up to the sky and questioned me with her glance. I gave her the word, but she was not satisfied and pointed to my eyes. I told her, and she repeated the word, making it sound like "ice." She pointed up to the sky, then to my eyes, then back to the sky, with movements so quick and impulsive that she distracted me, and I had no idea what she wanted. She got up on her knees and wrung her hands. She pointed to her own eyes and shook her head, then to mine and to the sky, nodding violently.

"Oh," I exclaimed, "blue; blue sky."

She clapped her hands and murmured, "Blue sky, blue eyes," as if it amused her. While we snuggled down there out of the wind she learned a score of words. She was quick, and very eager. We were so deep in the grass that we could see nothing but the blue sky over us and the gold tree in front of us. It was wonderfully pleasant. After Ántonia had said the new words over and over, she wanted to give me a little chased silver ring she wore on her middle finger. When she coaxed and insisted, I repulsed her quite sternly. I didn't want her ring, and I felt there was something reckless and extravagant about her wishing to give it away to a boy she had never seen before. No wonder Krajiek got the better of these people, if this was how they behaved.

While we were disputing about the ring, I heard a mournful voice calling, "Án-tonia, Án-tonia!" She sprang up like a hare. "Tatinek, Tatinek!" she shouted, and we ran to meet the old man who was coming toward us. Ántonia reached him first, took his hand and kissed it. When I came up, he touched my shoulder and looked searchingly down into my face for several seconds. I became somewhat embarrassed, for I was used to being taken for granted by my elders.

We went with Mr. Shimerda back to the dugout, where grandmother was waiting for me. Before I got into the wagon, he took a book out of his pocket, opened it, and showed me a page with two alphabets, one English and the other Bohemian. He placed this book in my grandmother's hands, looked at her entreatingly, and said with an earnestness which I shall never forget, "Te-e-ach, te-e-ach my Án-tonia!"

03 October 2023

English Civil War Not a Class Struggle

From The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England, 1603-1689, by Jonathan Healey (Knopf Doubleday, 2023), Kindle pp. 180-182:

England was divided. Political crisis had escalated and the country’s differences would have to be settled on the battlefield. Now that the king’s initial plan to take London had floundered in the face of mass opposition at Turnham Green, both sides were digging in for a longer conflict than anyone wanted.

Broadly, the king was strong in the north, the west and in Wales; Parliament in the south and east. But this isn’t the whole story: Puritan towns in Royalist regions, like Bolton, Manchester or Dorchester supported Parliament. Even individual families could be torn asunder. When the son of Susan Feilding, Countess of Denbigh, declared for Parliament, she wrote to him trying to persuade him to change his mind. His refusal to support the king, she told him, was more painful to her than childbirth: ‘I do more travail with sorrow for the grief I suffer for the ways that you take,’ she wrote, ‘than I ever did to bring you into this world.’ London was split, though control for now lay with Parliament. Hold of the capital was both a blessing and a curse. A grumbling hive of disorder and opinions, it was hard to control, yet it boasted a huge wealth of manpower and money, not to mention the lion’s share of the English print trade. It was, though, also a great target: if the Royalists could take London, they might break the Parliamentarian war effort at one blow.

The aristocracy were mostly Royalist, though with some major exceptions like Warwick, Mandeville (now the Earl of Manchester) and Northumberland. In fact, fully a quarter of Charles’s old Privy Council ended up as Parliamentarians. Beneath them, the gentry were more evenly divided. In many areas they were instinctively Royalist: it was said because they hated the common people more than they hated tyranny. ‘How many of the nobility and gentry were contented to serve arbitrary designs,’ asked the radical Parliamentarian Edmund Ludlow, ‘if they might have leave to insult over such as were of a lower order?’ That said, in parts of the country, notably the south-east, the gentry were largely Parliamentarian.

Beneath the gentry we have less idea, though there were evidently real divides and genuinely heartfelt opinions. Some thought the middling sort were more likely to support Parliament. The Puritan Lucy Hutchinson remembered how most of the Nottinghamshire gentry were Royalist, but ‘most of the middle sort, the able substantial freeholders, and the other commons, who had not their dependence upon the malignant nobility and gentry’, were Parliamentarian. In Gloucestershire, meanwhile, the king’s support was alleged to come from the rich and the ‘needy multitude’ who depended on them, while ‘the yeomen, farmers, clothiers, and the whole middle rank of people’ supported Parliament.

There were plenty of members of the middling sort who supported the king, though, and statements such as those just quoted should certainly not be understood as implying the war was neatly divided on a class basis. Rather, they showed that people were taking notice of the apparently newfound political consciousness of the middle sort of people. They were evidently acting independently of their superiors, and this was worthy of comment.

More to the point, the suggestion by some on the Parliamentarian side that those below the middle ranks who followed the king did so simply out of dependence on the rich should be treated very carefully. The reality was that each side’s war effort relied on support from across the social spectrum. This wasn’t just a mobilisation of the rich followed blindly by the poor. When London, for example, built up its defences against a potential Royalist attack, the work was done by thousands of ordinary women and men from the capital: a vast, collective project. Women, sniffed a Royalist some years later, ‘From ladies down to oyster wenches / Laboured like pioneers in trenches.’ In the end, perhaps around a quarter of adult males would fight – and they were supported by everyone else, men and women. Women, indeed, would look after soldiers, and would work on civil defences, among so much else. Sometimes they would even fight in battles. Some donned men’s clothes and joined the armies, or fought to defend towns, such as the woman at the siege of Gloucester who took potshots at the enemy from the city’s defences. The war affected everyone, and everyone took part in one way or another.

The Civil War wasn’t a class struggle. It was a clash of ideologies, as often as not between members of the same class. The Royalists were anti-Puritan, they stood by the old hierarchies in the Church, notably bishops. They were nostalgic for ‘Merry England’ before it was ruined by Puritans moping at their books. Parliamentarians claimed they were fighting for God and the constitution; Royalists did, too.

02 October 2023

English Factions Chose Sides, 1642

From The Blazing World: A New History of Revolutionary England, 1603-1689, by Jonathan Healey (Knopf Doubleday, 2023), Kindle pp. 169-171:

By summer 1642, not only were there two distinctive political ideologies at play, but the Parliamentarian side were starting to argue – grounded in a theory of popular sovereignty – for wresting control of the executive away from the king.

The warm months were spent jockeying for support in the country. Great ‘musters’ for Parliament took place in a number of counties under the Militia Ordinance, with thousands of men turning out with arms and horses; Charles responded by activating the old medieval device of ‘Commissions of Array’, which called people out to join him to defend the realm. It was a long-lapsed mechanism, and many considered it of dubious legality. The commissions were also in Latin, which hardly helped. But some musters under the Array did take place. And where both opposing sides were hoping to take control of the same strategic town or arsenal, there were moments of confrontation, even if both sides were reluctant to fire the first shot. In July, in Manchester, a skirmish broke out that resulted in at least one death. The Midlands was said to be ‘like a cockpit one spurring against another’. Another scrap took place near Street in Somerset, followed by a confrontation on the Mendips in which the Marquess of Hertford, attempting to recruit for the king, was opposed by a large gathering of 12,000 Somerset men and was forced to retreat.

The navy backed Parliament: both king and Junto tried to get its support, but it was the latter’s man, the Earl of Warwick, who got to the Downs first, and it was Warwick the sailors wanted anyway. Most towns, too, were Parliamentarian, although many were split. Oxford and Cambridge universities were Royalist, while the towns themselves supported Parliament. Similarly, in many cathedral cities, the townsmen were Parliamentarian, while the clergy in the close were Royalist. In Canterbury, one Royalist minister worried ‘that we can hardly look upon one another in charity’.

Some places tried to avoid taking sides: the Isle of Wight, in August, simply declared itself neutral, while Lincolnshire and Staffordshire went so far as to raise men to defend the county borders from all comers. Bulstrode Whitelocke, a lawyer who had been involved in the Strafford trial, was horrified by it all. ‘It is strange to note how we have insensibly slid into this beginning of a civil war, by one unexpected accident after another, as waves of the sea.’ We ‘scarce know how,’ he lamented, ‘but from paper combats…we are now come to the question of raising forces, and naming a General and officers of our army.’

The drift to war was shocking and unfathomable. If only Charles had defeated the Scots; if only the Irish rebellion hadn’t broken out; if only the king hadn’t launched his ham-fisted coup against the Five Members. Charles’s own unwillingness to part with his prerogatives without a fight or a plot didn’t help, but then isn’t it also unfair to expect someone brought up to expect divinely ordained rights to power to give that up freely? More to the point, the coming war had deeper causes. It was born out of fundamental disagreements over faith and government: about religious conformity and about the proper role of Parliament in the constitution, and, of course, also about the monarch: whether they could override human laws and if they did, could the people legitimately resist.

Those disagreements had been played out in a world of rising literacy, particularly among the middle sort of people and the gentry, and particularly in London. The people had been crucial. At key moments, the opposition of a significant segment of the English population – whether their reluctance to mobilise against the Scots, their willingness to elect opposition MPs twice in 1640, the petitions that reached Westminster, the demonstrations against Strafford, the iconoclasm of 1641 and, most of all, the great popular uprising in London in the winter of 1641–2 – had prevented Charles from keeping control. The breakdown wasn’t just about mistakes by politicians and the king. It was about the politicisation of the English population.