Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Review

"Thomas Hariot, Science Pioneer"
by Ralph C. Staiger

Ralph C. Staiger’s “Thomas Harriot Science Pioneer” was written primarily for middle school and high school students. I read it hoping to glean some information about Harriot that is missing from the various secondary sources that I have read about English settlement attempts in the 1580s at Roanoke Island (inside North Carolina’s Outer Banks). I have a better understanding now of how and why this young man of common birth became such a trusted associate of Walter Raleigh. I appreciate more Harriot’s uniqueness. A lifelong bachelor, he cared little for social conventions. He had an extraordinary need to discover the why of things. He was a problem solver. What he achieved was the end product of imagination, disciplined observation, and precise data collecting. His range of inquiry encompassed mathematics, navigation, alchemy, linguistics, shipbuilding, ballistics, ciphers and codes, and astronomy.

Walter Raleigh had need of such a person in 1584 as he was putting together an exploratory voyage to the New World. I found it interesting how Harriot became known to Raleigh. Raleigh wanted to find a suitable location to establish a colony and a permanent way-station for English privateers before or after they raided Spanish treasure ships sailing past the West Indies from Mexico and Central and South America. He sent Harriot on this first voyage mostly because of the young man’s advanced theories about navigation but also, probably, to have a pair of very inquisitive eyes to assess the location explored and the native population encountered.

Harriot was a vital member of the 1585 voyage, which established a military colony on Roanoke Island. Almost all of what we know today about the Pamlico and Albemarle Sound areas and the native people then comes from Harriot’s detailed report to Raleigh written after his return to England in 1586. Ralph Staiger summarizes adequately what Harriot detailed in his report. He provides nothing beyond what historians in greater detail provide.

The remainder of the book tells us about Harriot’s activities from 1587 to his death in 1621. He assisted Raleigh by helping to organize his patron’s Irish estates and by keeping accurate Raleigh’s extensive and complex financial records. He visited Raleigh during the years of Raleigh’s imprisonment in the Tower of London. Harriot profited greatly from the patronage of Raleigh’s friend, Henry Percy, the ninth Earl of Northumberland. In 1597 the Earl provided Harriot a house on his estate adjacent to his residence, Syon House, three hours by boat from London. This permitted Harriot to conduct his observations and research in total privacy. Additionally, it removed him physically from his and Raleigh’s enemies, who were accusing Harriot of being a “conjuror” and atheist, charges that eventually put Northumberland in the Tower. Staiger presents additionally several chapters about Harriot’s scientific achievements. Not being too technical in his explanations, Staiger succeeds in portraying Harriot as a remarkable, today unrecognized scientist.

This book added a bit more to my knowledge of Harriot. It did not provide as much information about the two voyages and the 1585-1586 settlement as professional historians do. There is much I would like to know about certain events and activities at and about Roanoke of which Harriot probably was a participant. No book offers this information because no original source apparently exists that provides it.

I did not like Staiger’s reference to and occasional use of what historians consider a bogus journal, supposedly written by Harriot’s Latin grammar school friend, Thomas Buckner, who may have been Harriot”s companion in America in 1585 and 1586. Such a journal could have provided much of the missing information I seek. The fact that historians give no credence to this “journal” leads me to believe that it is a hoax and Staiger has been irresponsible for using it as a source.          

Monday, July 21, 2014

"Ye Are the King's Finest!"
Pages 314-316
    Pitcairn, ahead of the column, studied the wooded hillside to the left of the road’s summit. It was the briefest of examinations. As the front of the column reached him, musket powder exploded. Wailing soldiers broke ranks.
     Down the incline of the road they careened!
     He would have to seize this hill!
     How? Where were the soldiers with the requisite stamina and courage?!
     His lengthy career in the Marines had taught him the fallacy of equating assumptions with outcomes. Perversity did work its will upon the embattled. In perceived victory there could be unexpected loss. In certain defeat there was survival, escape, for the few, individual triumph. Good fortune, bad, entered, walked the boards, exited. Nothing perceived was absolute. Approaching him was a company from his own battalion, forty marines that the General had detached for Colonel Smith’s use.
     Standing on the road’s hillside embankment, he exhorted. “Marines! Ye are the King’s finest!” Pointing his sword at a company of grenadiers skulking past, he shouted, “There! Take heed! Cowards flee!”
     Shoulders squared, chin raised, Pitcairn marked them. “Every man of ye I trust! Marines do not flee! They fight! To save this arrmy we must climb this hill!”
     Their assent was coarse, guttural.
     “Together now, men! Brave hearts ye have! None braver! Grave duty it shall be! Two lines, lads! Quickly! Courageously! We will have these scoundrels know we do not countenance defeat! We shall take no quarter!”
     Pointing his sword at the hill, he shouted, “Advance!”
     The huzzahing of his men energizing him, he galloped ahead. Not more than 100 rods farther, at the bottom of the hill, he spied the inverse of valor! Looters were exiting a tavern! Many were carrying vessels of spirits. Others were clutching large, torn apart loaves of bread! How ravenously they chewed and drank!
     Galloping farther, he observed that the road ascended yet another elevation, the last, he prayed, before Lexington!
     Lexington. Their survival there would require strict obedience and zealous engagement! Beyond all expectancy! There, where the road crested, by threat of execution if need be, he would instill it!
       Hard riding took him past the front of the column to the top of the hill. Standing in his stirrups, facing the advancing soldiers, he shouted, “Halt! Ye will halt and forrm up!”
     He saw sweat-drenched, dust-encrusted soldiers possessing scarcely the strength to stand. How in God’s name am I to incite them? He began with six choice obscenities.
     “Beyond this hill is Lexington! We are the King’s soldiers! We are not afraid! Hear this!” His eyes scorched the faces of those closest.
     “We will have splendid fighting orrder! We will stay together! We will obey absolutely every officair! We will not yield! We will not succumb! Mark this! If we do these things, only if we do these things, we will prevail! Forrm up, two deep! Quickly now! Do it!” To the officers that had formed the restraining barrier behind him, he shouted, “It is imperative that ye enforrce this orrder down the column!”
     Off both sides of the road gunpowder blasted. Pitcairn's horse reared. Twisted in his saddle, Pitcairn toppled.
     Seated in the road, legs spread, he felt a sharp pain in his right hip, then in his right elbow.
     Had a soldier seized his horse’s bridle?! Ignoring the pain, standing, staring up the slope, he spotted his mount vaulting a fence, carrying to the rebels, holstered upon his saddle -- buggering crap! -- his prized, ivory-handled pistols!
       Desperate men were surging past him.
    Where was the fatigue he had witnessed?! Crazed, stampeding horses they were, charging down the long slope! Fleeing to Lexington hell-bent!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"English Creek"
by Ivan Doig

English Creek by Ivan Doig is about a soon-to-be fifteen-year-old Montana boy forced to learn during the summer of 1939 harsh lessons about people and life. The younger son of a district national forest ranger director, John Angus (Jick) McCaskill experiences unsettling experiences that force him to feel, reflect, and conclude. At the summer’s conclusion he has developed a better understanding of the damage stubbornness of will can cause within a family, and he is more perceptive and accepting of the character deficiencies of flawed people.

In a conversation with his school friend Ray Heaney, Jick, thinking about his parents and his brother Alec, reveals his frustration about grown-ups arguing and falling “out over it. Why can’t they just say, here’s what it was about, it’s over and done with? Get it out of their systems?” Ray accuses Jick of thinking too much. Jick responds: “Thinking is thinking. It happens in spite of a person. … I don’t have any choice. This stuff I’m talking about is on my mind whether or not I want it to be.”

What Jick must think about is the argument his parents had had with Alec about Alec’s immediate future. Four years older than Jick, Alec has university potential. From early childhood he has demonstrated the ability to compute rapidly large numbers in his head. His parents have sacrificed during the Depression years to finance Alec’s higher education. Accustomed to success, as willful as his parents, Alec is determined to get married, work as a cowboy on a large cattle ranch, buy eventually a parcel of land, and attempt to raise cattle. He is unwilling to heed his father’s advice: “… whatever the hell you do, you need to bring an education to it these days. That old stuff of banging a living out of this country by sheer force of behavior doesn’t work. … You’ll be starting in a hole. … And an everlasting climb out.” Alec is insistent about getting married. He is unwilling to wait the four years that would enable him to get a university degree. “… we got to start [our lives]. … And we’re going to do it married. Not going to wait our life away.”

Jick is deeply disturbed. “… I somehow knew even then, that the fracture of a family is not a thing that happens clean and sharp … No, it is like one of those worst bone breaks, a shatter.” He hopes that reconciliation is yet possible. He talks to his mother about it. She describes Leona, Alec’s finance, as “too young and … flibberty. Leona is in love with the idea of men, not one man.” She exhorts Jick not to “go through life paying attention to the past at the expense of the future. That you don’t pass up chances because they’re new and unexpected.” Fairly late in the novel Jick visits his brother at the cattle ranch and discovers that Leona has cooled about getting married and Alec is working a demeaning job. Jick asks: “What is it about the damned life here that you think is so great?” Alec answers: “That it’s my own.” Days later, Jick attempts to force a reconciliation.

This is the conflict that drives the novel. As a parent of grown children, I identify with the theme that parents, utilizing their wisdom, must not only advise but strongly advocate beneficial paths to their child’s successful future. I also know from experience that every child is different and in some instances the willfulness of the maturing child trumps all degrees of parental persuasion and persistence. Looking back on this summer of 1939, the mature adult Jick McCaskill comments: “Ever since the night of the supper argument our parents thought they were contending with Alec’s cowboy phase or with Leona or the combination of the two. … What they were up against was the basic Alec.”

Jick’s secondary conflict involves his desire to learn about an apparent rift between his father Varick McCaskill and Stanley Meixell, an old codger that Jick and Varick encounter as they ride into the higher slopes of the Two Medicine National forest, just east of the Continental Divide. Varick McCaskill is the Two Medicine National Forest top ranger. He and Jick have ridden out to take a count of hundreds of sheep grazing in the national forest. Meixell is leading a pack horse carrying food and supplies to the first of several sheep herders. Jick remembers Stanley’s presence several times at his parents’ dinner table when he was four, of he and Alec being amused by Stanley’s revelations to them “that where he came from they called milk moo juice and eggs cackle-berries and molasses long-tailed sugar. Yet of his ten or so years since we had last seen him I couldn’t have told you anything whatsoever.” The talk between Varick and Stanley on the mountain slope is strained. Then, noticing that Stanley’s right hand is badly cut, Varick volunteers Jick to accompany Stanley on his trip to the sheep herders. “Those packs and knots are gonna be several kinds of hell, unless you’re more left-handed than you’ve ever shown.”

Jick is astonished and, thereafter, resentful. Not only is Stanley seriously incapacitated and his pack horse extremely ornery. Jick discovers that Stanley is an alcoholic. Jick has to do virtually all of the essential physical tasks; skin dead, wet sheep; provide his and Stanley’s meals; nurse Stanley’s wound; and deal with unexpected calamities caused by the recalcitrant pack horse. In response to Stanley implicit apology, “I hope you don’t feel hard used,” Jick, feeling exactly that way, answers, “No, it’s all been an education.”

Part of what Jick learned was that Stanley had been the original Two Medicine National Park head ranger -- had, in fact, drawn the actual boundaries. Having formed immediately a low opinion of Stanley, hearing this from him, Jick is surprised. He is forced to think. What exactly was the relationship between his father and Stanley. Why had there been an apparent cautiousness in their recent conversation? Where had Stanley been the past ten years? Jick learns the answers during a dangerous fire in the Two Medicine forest and realizes that Stanley is a man he should respect.

My only criticism of this novel is that the story took too long to reach its conclusion. In his acknowledgments, Doig indicates specific subject matter that he conscientiously researched. He uses this information liberally throughout the book, some of which doesn’t pertain directly to Jick’s conflicts. The information is instructive to any reader that appreciates how particular people lived in a specific locality at a specific time in history. We read about the work of a packjack, we witness a community Fourth of July picnic and rodeo, we learn how hay is stacked, we experience an out-of-control forest fire. We meet unusual types of people. (Doig is excellent at characterization and the use of dialogue) I liked the information but wanted more to see how the story concluded.   

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fat Francis
Early in my novel Crossing the River I have Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Percy returning to his residence just before midnight, April 18, 1775, having witnessed the chaotic loading of approximately 700 British soldiers into long boats to be rowed across the Charles River.   Upon reaching the opposite shore, the soldiers were supposed to be formed quickly into a marching column and, afterward, hurried along the road through Lexington to reach Concord by dawn.  In this and successive posts I will provide information about Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Smith, Major John Pitcairn, and Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Percy, each of whom played a significant role in the army’s ill-advised march to Concord and its disastrous retreat to Charlestown.
     A hundred yards from the shoreline of Boston Common, Hugh, Earl Percy, feigning indifference, watched the final company of regulars clamber into the three remaining boats. The past forty-five minutes he had watched agitated junior officers locate, remove, and relocate their charges across the upslope of the Common. Because none of the waiting boats had been assigned to specific units, the more assertive officers had attempted to commandeer those closest. Arguments and the co-mingling of companies had resulted. Percy had observed in the rank and file a gamut of conduct, little of it exemplary.
    Ten rods to Percy’s left, surrounded by a crowd of company captains, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith was seated on a chair, carried down, Percy assumed, from one of the barracks. “His attention is yet misdirected!” Percy muttered. If he, Percy, were commander, … He wasn’t!
    Two hours ago General Gage had informed Earl Percy of Smith’s appointment. The General had summoned Percy to the Province House to apprise him of his subordinate assignment. First, however, had been Gage’s revelation that Colonel Smith was to lead. No! Percy had silently reacted. “I have placed Major Pitcairn second in command,” the General had thereafter stated.
    At once Percy had recognized Gage’s reasoning. He had not wanted to offend his most senior field officer. An awful decision. Gage’s selection of Pitcairn, however, had been astute. Honest, efficient, fair-minded, and shrewd, John Pitcairn had the ability to correct Smith’s worst mistakes. Perhaps Smith would seek Pitcairn's counsel. Better yet, he might delegate to the Scotsman all decision-making responsibility.
    These hurried thoughts had preceded Gage’s announcement of Percy’s assignment. “You shall command a sizeable force to be made ready to reinforce Colonel Smith and his men at or near the vicinity of Concord should events deem that action necessary.” -- So, the General has his own doubts, Percy had thought. -- “But I don’t think the rebels will fight.”
    Riding past tall, peak-roofed buildings during his return to his residence, Percy had pondered Gage’s decision. A part of Percy’s creed was his belief that in combat a commanding general should utilize the entirety of his resources. That meant employing to maximum benefit his best field officer. The General had chosen to proceed differently, presuming that the colonials would not contest Smith, saving Percy to avert calamity should his judgment be proven deficient.
    The mismanagement that Percy had witnessed the past forty-five minutes had laid bare the importance of Gage’s calculation.
Encyclopedias provide little information about Francis Smith (1723-1791) prior to his sudden rise to prominence April 18, 1775.  At the age of 18 (April 25, 1741), he was commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers.  Six years later (June 23, 1747) he joined the 10th Regiment of Foot as a Captain.  In February 1762 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.  Five years later he and the 10th Regiment arrived in America.
At 52 a senior officer with twelve years experience serving in the colonies, called upon by his friend Thomas Gage to lead a selected force of 700 soldiers to seize and destroy stockpiled rebel munitions stored at Concord, a corpulent man slow to think and slow to act, called “Fat Francis” by the rank and file behind his back, Smith demonstrated immediately his deficiencies.  First was the chaotic loading of the soldiers into the long boats.  Next, after they had been rowed across the river, he spent far too much time organizing them into a marching column. 
At that time a British regiment consisted of ten companies.  35 to 50 men filled a company.  One of the ten companies was called light infantry, its men often used as flankers to protect the other nine obliged to march through hostile territory.  These soldiers had to be able to move quickly over difficult terrain.  A separate company of the ten consisted of grenadiers, muscular soldiers famous in previous decades for their ability to hurl heavy explosives.  They were to be utilized April 19 to destroy the military supplies hidden in Concord.  The soldiers of the remaining eight companies were regular foot soldiers, sometimes called “of the line” soldiers.  Light infantry and grenadier companies were the elite companies of every regiment.  General Gage had provided Smith eleven light infantry and ten grenadier companies from different regiments.  Mindful entirely of protocol, Smith wasted valuable time arranging these units into a marching column.  In my novel Lieutenant John Barker, 4th Regiment, gives the particulars.
    Colonel Smith’s expeditionary force had dawdled in the marshland two hours, not one! They had moved a jaw-dropping distance of fifty feet!
    His eminence had used much of the time changing the composition of his column. Light infantry companies were to lead; grenadier companies were to follow; within the two groupings regimental seniority determined the location of each company. Their shoes and gaiters soaked, the men of the 4th had stood, shivered, been moved, shivered, been moved again, stood, shivered, and cursed.
    The column had waited a good portion of the second hour for provisions, a third crossing of the boats! Much better to have received the beef hardtack upon the completion of their mission when its delivery would actually have served its purpose! Its distribution now -- added weight soon to be discarded -- made no sense! But when had making sense factored in his superiors’ operations?
General Gage had wanted his forces to arrive at Concord at dawn.  Because of Smith’s leadership inadequacies, they arrived at dawn at Lexington.
Colonel Smith’s next major blunder was his decision to march to Concord after his men had killed eight Lexington villagers.  West of Menotomy (currently Arlington) he had ordered Major Pitcairn to hurry six of the light infantry companies to Concord ahead of the remainder of his forces.  It was Pitcairn, not Smith, who encountered much of Captain Parker’s militia company standing on the Lexington common.  At least one shot was fired from off the common.  Fatigued, in bad temper, one of Pitcairn’s companies, brought up onto the common, lost all discipline.  Disobeying Pitcairn’s orders, it volleyed into the militiamen.  A second volley resounded.   Bayonets leading, all of the companies then surged forward.  Smith, having heard the volleys from afar, arrived atop his galloping horse.  The worst of the encounter had already happened.
            His instructions had been to seize military stores at Concord, not massacre there or any place in between the populace! What had happened here?!
    Major Pitcairn's explanation was brief. Smith recognized in his demeanor both chagrin and anger. Smith lashed out at his soldiers after they had performed smartly their parade address. They had disobeyed their superiors’ orders, the worst of sins.
    He recognized, while he lectured, that he was not entirely displeased. They had removed an impediment not of their making. They had done His Majesty a valuable service. What he had first thought to be a massive bloodletting had been an indelible lesson of the consequence of pertinacious disobedience. The schooling had not been costly. But one regular had been wounded -- not seriously, he had been told. Of the rebels, only a handful had been killed. Had these peasants had any doubt beforehand about the fighting prowess of His Majesty’s foot, they had this day been enlightened. As would, upon hearing the news of this farce of a skirmish, traitors elsewhere. Thinking to reward his soldiers, thinking to bolster their morale after he had scolded them, Smith ordered the traditional victory salute, a volley of musketry followed by three huzzahs.
    Minutes later, after his brief exchange with three junior officers, urging of all things a return to Boston, the purpose of the mission having been made “impracticable,” to the strains of fife and the tattoo of drum, Colonel Smith directed his expeditionary force, in fine formation, westward.
Much of the time while his soldiers searched for hidden munitions in Concord, Smith fed his appetite and quenched his thirst in a local tavern.  Warned by Captain Walter Laurie’s messenger that militia companies of considerable number had assembled on Punkatasek Hill near Concord’s North Bridge, which Laurie’s outnumbered companies were defending, Smith was slow in assembling reinforcements.  A skirmish at the bridge occurred before Smith and two grenadier companies arrived.  Half of the engaged militiamen took a defensive position off the road behind a stone wall.  After studying them at length, Smith decided not to engage them.  He marched his grenadiers and Laurie’s soldiers back toward Concord.  The militiamen left their position, crossed the bridge, and climbed Punkatasek Hill.  Learning of this, Smith marched his forces back toward the bridge, stopped, and studied for two or three minutes the deserted terrain.  British possession of the bridge was essential.  Several British companies sent to the farm of Concord’s Colonel James Barrett to locate hidden munitions needed yet to cross it to return to the village.  Much to Lieutenant John Barker’s disgust, Smith ordered his soldiers back to Concord, then back toward the bridge, and then, a final time, back to Concord.
     The marching, the counter marching, Smith’s poltroonery, two hours of wasted energy, this!
    About and beyond the Common the dismissed men were raising water, begging for food, crowding the sides of buildings to escape the sun.
    Meanwhile, inside the tavern senior officers and His Rotund Eminence were devouring meat and pastry and tossing down flip.
    Meanwhile, Parsons’ four crack light infantry companies, probably returning, were breathing kicked-up dust!
    Standing outside Wright Tavern, aiming at the imprint of a boot heel, Barker spat.
Just west of Lexington during his army’s march to Boston, Smith was struck in the left thigh with a musket ball.  He turned his command authority over to Major Pitcairn.  Just east of Lexington, Smith’s desperate forces entered the perimeter of approximately a thousand soldiers sent by General Gage to rescue them.  Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh Percy now assumed over-all command.  Under his efficient leadership, the army reached the safety of Charlestown at nightfall.
Months passed before Smith recovered from his wound.  Meantime, George Washington took command of the militia forces that were conducting a siege of Boston.  In the dead of winter, Washington sent Henry Knox and a detachment of soldiers to Fort Ticonderoga at Lake Champlain to seize British cannon.  Using sleds, Knox’s men, unbeknownst to Gage’s successor, William Howe, transported the artillery to Boston.  On the night of March 4, 1776, during a snow storm, British sentries on duty near Boston Neck heard digging across the bay on Dorchester Heights.  They reported this information to Smith.  Smith did not forward the information to his superiors. By dawn, Washington had a full complement of breastworks constructed on the heights ready for Knox’s cannon.  Vulnerable thereafter to artillery attack, Howe and his army abandoned Boston March 17, leaving for Halifax, Nova Scotia, aboard ships.
Promoted a brigadeer general, Francis Smith commanded a brigade during George Washington’s withdrawal from New York in August 1776.  He commanded two regiments in the Battle of Quaker Hill at Newport, Rhode Island, in August 1778, the conflict a denouement of a planned undertaking that involved American and French soldiers and French warships and that was only partly executed.  Smith’s advance against the left flank of the American army stalled.  He was reinforced, resumed his advance, and forced a Yankee withdrawal to a more formidable defensive position.  He thereupon initiated a probing attack, was repulsed, and terminated his advance. 
Thereafter, Smith and his 10th Regiment returned to England to recruit and retrain.   Smith returned to America in 1779 and was promoted a major general.  In 1787 he was promoted Lieutenant General and Aide-de-Camp to King George III.  Four years later he died. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I want to thank Michael Brookes for posting on his excellent blog site ( the portion of my July 5 entry that was about teaching students how to write visual imagery.  He does an excellent job promoting indie authors.  I encourage you to investigate other writers that he has featured.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Writing Crossing the River
This coming January my novel Crossing the River and I will be spotlighted in a new authors’ internet magazine put out by PnPAuthors Promotions. (  I was asked to provide something about how I became an author and how I develop characters and a story line.  What I provided, not entirely what was requested, is to be found below.  I hope you find it interesting.  – Harold Titus
Teaching English to eighth grade students ignited my love of literature and my desire to write.  This is not to say that previously I did not care to write.  I wrote a short story while I was a junior in high school.  I enjoyed doing historical research and the writing of lengthy term papers during my senior and graduate years in college.  I wrote fifty-some pages of what I envisioned would be a Civil War historical novel while I was in the Army.  I wrote several short stories very early during my teaching career.  Only after I retired from teaching, however, did I become serious enough to attempt to write to the best of my ability a full-length historical novel.
I wanted to combine my desire to dramatize universal truths about mankind with a singular event in American history.  That event, I decided, should be the series of deadly clashes that occurred April 19, 1775, between British soldiers and Massachusetts citizens along the main road between Concord and Charlestown.  Original and secondary sources abound with accounts of the experiences of ordinary people who volunteered or were forced to participate.  Because any complicated event is the composite result of the actions of many individuals, I focused my narration on the thoughts, emotions, ambitions, and conduct of many of the day’s participants.  Crossing the River is the end-product of my labors. 
Most of the novel’s characters were actual people.  In depicting them, I tried to limit myself to what I had discerned in their writing or what contemporaries or respected historians had disclosed about them.  For instance, Paul Revere wrote quite a bit about his “midnight ride,” his capture by the British, and his subsequent release.  Four junior British officers reported their experiences in personal journals.  Five or six individuals, about whom I knew little, I made fictional characters in order to personify observations I wanted to make about people, life, and war.  I changed their surnames and made certain that their stories did not alter the day’s historical facts.
It took me seventeen years, spaced around other activities of my life, to complete the novel.  Writing fiction isn’t easy.  I discovered I couldn’t just "turn it on."  There were moments when my brain was working and words and phrases came to me cooperatively but more often they did not.  About two hours a day at my computer was approximately the time I allotted myself because I knew staying at the task longer would be counterproductive.  I learned additionally not to review the next day what I had just written other then to correct conspicuous writing errors.  Serious revision needs to occur weeks, if not months, afterward.  Reading what you have written with fresh eyes (oh so humbling) is essential to good revision.  Crossing the River is the product of layers and layers of gritted-teeth modification.
I quickly learned my limitations.  Every original passage needed revision.  Frequently after five or six attempts to improve a scene or chapter, more often than not I found what I had written only slightly better.  Sometimes the remedy was not to revise but to delete.  Or, sometimes, on the seventh try, my mind would open up and the problem would be solved. 
Writing action scenes and dialogue is easier for me to do than communicating feelings and expressing abstractions.  Here is one of the most difficult paragraphs I wrote.
In his study one hour each afternoon, recalling past friendships, recreating personal and professional accomplishments, Thomas Gage warded off his anxieties.  Intermittently, he indulged in flight of fancy: Tom Gage, suave, virile lothario; Thomas Gage, vanquishing general/enlightened prime minister.  Revitalized, he returned to his duties primed to vanquish each new outrage directed upon his competency.  Once or twice every fourteen days or so his methodology of self-renewal failed him.  This afternoon his apprehensions and resentments had not receded.
I enjoy authors that offer incisive social commentary, create well-rounded, authentic characters, and demonstrate a strong command of language.  A component of the latter is the use of sensory detail.  I can’t tell you how many times I wrote in the margins of my students’ writing the words “show it!”  Students, and poor writers, summarize way too much what they wish to narrate.  To train my students to record with precise words what their eyes actually see of a particular event, I had them observe and record what unsuspecting students do when they are placed in stressful situations.  I wanted my writers to present sharp visual evidence of the observed person’s emotional state.  “Write what your eyes see, not what your mind interprets and generalizes,” I would say.  “Don’t give me ‘He was nervous’ or ‘I saw he was angry.’”

One of my students would bring from another classroom the selected victim, a stable person I had carefully chosen, a student who was self-confident, strong in character, and well regarded by his peers, an individual, I believed, who would consider his selection, after his ordeal had concluded, a compliment.

When the chosen one entered my room, I would feign anger.
“You keep writing while I’m busy with Jack!’ I would shout at the class.  “I don’t want to hear a sound out of any of you! Now’s not the time to get on my bad side!”

I would then turn to “Jack” or “Sarah,” who would already be exhibiting considerable apprehension.

“Jack, you know I keep a bag of Brach’s candy in my desk drawer, don’t you?”

Jack would respond, and several of my students would write down something about what he had just done with his hands or how specifically he had moved his feet.

“I suppose you’re wondering why I asked you that question.”

Jack, answering or nodding, would present something else for my students to record.

“Well, here it is!” I would then glare at a student in one of the rear seats.  “Hensley, I told you I wanted no fooling around!  Right?!”  Hensley would answer.  “Noon detention!  Be here five minutes after the bell!” I would respond.

I would then confront Jack.  “I’ll get right to the point.  I was a bit surprised when one of my students told me he saw you looking into my desk drawer yesterday afternoon.  I checked it out and found a bunch of my candy missing.  I don’t want to jump to conclusions here.  I want the truth.”

Jack would say something, professing his innocence; and I would then surprise him by offering him several candies.  I would then tell him that he had been called into the room to be the subject of a writing assignment, that I had chosen him because he was a strong individual well-respected by his classmates, and that he was welcome to stay a few minutes to watch the next victim be interrogated and observed.  I would have several students read their visual detail observations.  I would suggest how some of their sentences could be tightened up and made more visual.  I would then send my messenger off to bring back the next victim.

I value writers that employ sharp sensory detail especially in scenes that use dialogue.  I recognize that a writer doesn’t have the time to observe and record in his mind, or even on paper, the many little things people do while they converse; but he or she should use precise sensory detail occasionally to convey both emotion and a sense of presence.  Good writers do.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

1588-1590 -- Drake's Failure, Raleigh's Decline, White's Dilemma

In late May 1588, while John White was recuperating in England from wounds suffered aboard the Brave and his countrymen were anticipating the arrival of King Philip’s great armada, a Spanish bark carrying 30 soldiers left St. Augustine, Florida, and headed north.  Its commander’s assignment was to search the Atlantic coastline for an English settlement rumored to have been founded one, two, or three years earlier.  Making Chesapeake Bay landfalls in June, traveling up the Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers, the ship’s party found no evidence of an English presence.  Battling a fierce wind early during their return voyage, the crew dismasted the bark and rowed it toward the shoreline of a long sandbar island.  Finding a shallow inlet (probably Port Ferdinando), they entered an expansive, shallow sound.  Looking northward, they saw a great bay (the entrance to Albemarle Sound), the wooded part of Roanoke Island, and a deeper inlet into the sound a league north of the island.   On the east side of the northern portion of the island they discovered a slipway (a shipyard) “for small vessels and on land a number of wells made with English casks …, and other debris indicating that a considerable number of people had been here” (Quinn 308).  Finding no Englishmen present, concluding that the settlement had been abandoned, the party sailed for Florida.  Had John White and the Brave actually gone to Roanoke, the Brave and the Spanish bark might possibly have found each other and fought.
After the Spanish Armada’s defeat in September, White sought Walter Raleigh’s assistance.  Historian Lee Miller believes that Raleigh told the Queen that sabotage was the motive of Simon Fernandez’s refusal to carry John White and his colonists to the southern shore of Chesapeake Bay in 1587.  Raleigh had to have known that his accusation would implicate Elizabeth’s very powerful secretary to state, Francis Walsingham.  (See blog entry, “1587-1588: Philip II Defeated, John White Thwarted,” fourth paragraph, June 1, 2014) 
Most likely, Raleigh made his allegation after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, when the Queen was no longer fixated on the nation’s survival.  Notwithstanding, doing so afterward was a dangerous action.  “With the victory celebration booming, Raleigh’s complaints could only come as an unwelcomed distraction – ungrateful at best – amid the patriotic fervor.  John White’s enemies will roundly condemn him [White] as a liar.  The whelp Essex and his faction are ever ready to denounce Raleigh for his recriminations, calling him an acerbic troublemaker whose combative nature disrupts the peace of the Court.  He takes too much credit for the defeat of the Armada.  He is too independent” (Miller 198).  More importantly, what might Walsingham do?  And how might the Queen react?  Did Raleigh consider thoroughly these predictable risks?  Given his history of combating criticism with disdain, he probably didn’t. 
Unlike other historians, who refuse to speculate what he may have said, Lee Miller believes that Raleigh implicated Walsingham.  Raleigh’s single defender is Leicester.  Yet soon after the Armada’s defeat, Leicester is dead from a fever, which many suspect was caused by poison.  Whatever the source of Raleigh’s troubles, there is no denying that he passed into a period of disfavor that has no other ready explanation.  He speaks of errors made … Was accusing Walsingham his error” (Miller 198)?
White and Raleigh must have had long conversations “about the possibilities for doing something as soon as the war fervor had died down and the prohibition on sailing had been removed” (Quinn 310-311).  Raleigh probably “introduced White to his business manager in London, William Sanderson, and to the richest promoters of the day, the two Thomas Smiths (or Smythes), who were father and son” (Quinn 311).  Clearly out of favor with the Queen, Raleigh had to disassociate himself from White’s enterprise so as not to damage him.
Elizabeth’s long-time friend and advisor and one-time suitor, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, had died September 4.  Grief-stricken, she had refused to see anybody for days.  It was at this time that Leicester’s step-son, Robert Devereux, the youthful, petulant Earl of Essex, capitalized on Elizabeth’s attraction to him.  Having moved into Leicester’s old quarters at Court, he was constantly near her.  He flattered her, and, simultaneously, demanded indulgences.  Thirty-four years her junior, he played the admiration game.  “’I do confess that, as a man, I have been more subject to your natural beauty, than as a subject to the power of a king,’ he told her” (Weir 402).  Resentful whenever she refused any of his demands, he would threaten to leave Court and live in the country, confident that she would yield.  “He thought to manipulate her, but constantly underestimated her formidable intellect and strength of will.  However, such was her affection for him that she would invariably forgive him for minor transgressions: this, again, led him to believe that he could do as he pleased with impunity” (Weir 401).    All the while that he sought to manipulate her, he derided Raleigh.
In November Essex fought a duel with Sir Charles Blount, a handsome young courtier whom Elizabeth had given a golden chess queen, a token he wore tied to his arm with a crimson ribbon.  In December, Essex, quarreling, challenged Raleigh to a duel.  Raleigh declined.  The Privy Council forbade it take place.  Hearing of it, Elizabeth was very disturbed.  Essex remarked to the French ambassador, “’She takes pleasure in beholding such quarrels among her servants,’ especially when they concerned herself” (Weir 402).
Raleigh returned to Elizabeth’s good graces in early 1589, perhaps because she needed his participation in a major assault upon Spanish and Portuguese ports and the Azores to be led by Sir Francis Drake that spring.  Working independently, Raleigh’s business partner William Sanderson had put together a holding company of investors -- finalized March 7 -- to fund a relief expedition to Roanoke.  The investors were to be granted “the right to trade freely with the City of Ralegh and with any part of America in which Ralegh had any claim” (Quinn 312).  Nothing resulted from the agreement.  Any colonial endeavor required the protection of armed vessels, ships owned by large London syndicates engaged exclusively in privateering.  Who of the owners would give up potential riches to have his captains shepherd a supply ship and additional settlers to a far-distant, godforsaken land?  Even if one such owner were to be found, his ships were not immediately available.   They were to be used by Drake in his forthcoming assault.
The crippled remnants of the 1588 Armada were being repaired in the northern Spanish port of Santander and the Portuguese port of Lisbon.  Spain had taken possession of Portugal in 1581.  Don Antonio, the pretender to the Portuguese throne, had fled to England.  Living in London, he became one of Francis Drake’s friends.  Antonio told Drake that the Portuguese people were only waiting for his return to rise up and expel the Spaniards.  Wanting to destroy Philip’s preparations for a future invasion attempt, Elizabeth sanctioned Drake’s ambitious expedition.  Drake’s intention was to smash Philip’s navy, land Antonio and a military force in Portugal, pillage, incite a successful uprising, establish a permanent English base in the Azores, and seize Spanish treasure ships.
Drake’s fleet, consisting ultimately of 150 ships, carrying 20,000 men, set sail April 18.  Living well beyond his means and in debt for more than 23,000 pounds, Essex had been desperate to be a participant.  Ships would be seized.  Booty would be collected.  He would be enriched.  And he would earn renown as a valiant soldier.  Why, he demanded, was Raleigh to be a participant and he not?  The Queen was adamant.  Disguising himself, Essex galloped to Plymouth and boarded a ship that was to join Drake at sea.  Elizabeth ordered two ships to retrieve him.  Bad weather prevented the ships from reaching him.
The same bad weather impeded Drake.  “The ships were soon scattered by a series of violent gales, and some thirty turned back.  When the fleet regrouped on the north coast of Spain, the wind prevented it from reaching Santander” (Bawlf 235).  Drake sailed then to La Caruna.  Here, Drake had minor success, destroying 13 merchant ships in the harbor while General John Norreys (Norris) captured the lower town, killing 500 Spaniards.  Attempts to capture the fortified upper town failed.  The raid caught Spain off-guard.  The days Drake spent at La Caruna, however, gave Spanish forces time to strengthen their coastal defenses.  Lacking artillery, Norreys was unable to capture Lisbon.  Essex and Raleigh fought the enemy here with distinction. Neither Norreys, Drake, Raleigh, nor Essex witnessed any Portuguese uprising. 
By then, Drake’s campaign had suffered a heavy toll.  Disease had spread throughout his fleet.  Over 10,000 men would die from or be incapacitated by it.  The plan to attempt a landing on one of the islands of the Azores was abandoned.  Drake had only 2,000 men fit for combat.  Norreys sailed for England with the sick and wounded.  Drake set out with 20 ships to hunt Spanish treasure ships.  Struck by a heavy storm, his flag ship springing a leak, he turned about and returned to Plymouth.  Drake had lost about 40 ships, the investors of the expedition were to take heavy losses, and the Queen was poorer by 49,000 pounds.  To punish Essex, Elizabeth awarded Raleigh at Court a gold chain.  Essex, acting the role of returning hero, received nothing.  Even though she later excused his disobedient behavior as “but a sally of youth,” Essex wrote a resentful letter to James VI of Scotland, Elizabeth’s heir apparent.
The failure of William Sanderson’s holding company to attempt to obtain ships and Elizabeth’s turbulent relationship with Essex continued.  Again, Raleigh fell out of favor.  On August 15, Sir Francis Allen wrote to Anthony Bacon, in France, that Essex had chased Raleigh from the Court and had “confined him to Ireland.”  Raleigh had taken residence there to organize his estates; Elizabeth had threatened to reclaim 42,000 acres of his holdings.  At a low point emotionally, he composed a melancholy poem that included these lines: “As in a country strange without companion/I only wail the wrong of death’s delays.”  (He made no mention in the poem of his having fathered an illegitimate daughter)  At the end of 1589 Raleigh was again in Elizabeth’s good graces.  It helped that Francis Walsingham had become ill and would die April 6, 1590.  It helped him even more that Essex had secretly married Walsingham’s widowed daughter Frances and that Elizabeth was greatly upset. 
Raleigh returned to England in early 1590.  John White had been busy attempting to arrange passage to Roanoke.  “The year 1590 was the year of the privateers.  The Lisbon expedition had provided more loss than gain to the nearly 150 armed merchantmen that had participated in it” (Quinn 315).  The privateering firms were eager to recoup their losses.  They “were busy preparing all the ships they could for purely plundering expeditions and did not care to be burdened with supplies for a colony that would have to be searched for on the North American coast when the time might be spent more profitably in a privateering cruise alone” (Quinn 315).  Needing to fulfill his commitments at Court, Raleigh did not have the time nor the financial means to outfit an expedition to Roanoke himself; but he was able to prevail again upon his friend and business associate William Sanderson. 
Raleigh told Sanderson to find a ship.  He purchased an 80 ton vessel, which he named the Moonlight.  The ship hadn’t the capacity to carry all of the provisions needed to transfer and establish White’s colony.  Additionally, she needed protection.  Raleigh was able to pressure John Watts “who, with his partners, formed one of London’s most powerful privateering syndicates,” into agreeing to provide additional cargo capacity and provide protection (Quinn 316).  The flagship of Watts’s little squadron of privateers was the Hopewell, captained by the experienced Abraham Cocke.  Rumors that Spain was yet preparing to invade persuaded Elizabeth to put a hold on the sailing of some of the privateers.  This had allowed Raleigh to force Watts “to agree to convoy both White and the supply ship Moonlight to North America if his ships were released without further delay” (Quinn 317).  Sanderson forced Watts to post a bond for 5,000 pounds to carry out his obligations to the settlers.
At the end of February White and a group of settlers arrived in Plymouth where the ships were about to sail.  Abraham Cocke refused to accept the settlers and their equipment.  Only White would be allowed to come aboard!  White had no time to complain to Raleigh or Sanderson, both of whom were in London.  Lee Miller wrote: “What an incredible choice!  White must know that if he leaves England without supplies, his arrival on Roanoke will be as good as nothing.  Three years wasted; he will return in exactly the same condition as when he left.  For this, he has spent agonizing years braving famine and storms, ridicule and pirate attack.  He has been shot and wounded.  If he boards Watts’s ship now without supplies, he will only share the colonists’ fate.   Was Walsingham behind it?  The decision might well have been made before his death.  Essex” (Miller 202)? 
White acquiesced.   
The Hopewell, the Little John, and the pinnace John Evangeliist left Plymouth Harbor March 20.  The Moonlight, delayed in sailing, would rendezvous with them in the Caribbean.
Sources cited:
Bawlf, Samuel.  Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake.  Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  2004.  Print.
Miller, Lee. Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony.  New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001.  Print.
Quinn, David Beers.  Set Fair for Roanoke.  Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985.  Print.
Weir, Alison.  Elizabeth the Queen.  London: Vintage Books, 1998.  Print.