Category Literature

Strange Bedfellows

Politics makes strange bedfellows. Such a true statement, but where did it come from? I searched for its origins, and found some very lazy scholars on Google. One said it was “an obscure saying from the nineteenth century.” Surely, we can do better. Shakespeare is widely credited as the first to create a “bedfellows” phrase. […]

Anthony Trollope

I am reading Masters of the Post: The Authorized History of the Royal Mail, a thumping big tome by Duncan Campbell-Smith, and I came across a passage that reminded me of a particular Waterloo of mine. The author noted that Anthony Trollope, who worked for the General Post Office before gaining fame as a novelist, […]

An Amiable Uncle

When I began to read, one of the first books my mother gave me was Penrod by Booth Tarkington. I loved the book, in part because Penrod’s boyhood was preferable to my own, but also because Tarkington was fun, funny, and his prose flowed like a brook in the woods. I still return to him […]

On a Painting that Might Be R.G. Shaw II

The following story is repeated, with the photo above, many times on the Internet: “Artist R.G. Harper Pennington in one of his paintings depicted a nude Robert Gould Shaw II as the character ‘Little Billee’ from the bohemian novel Trilby by George du Maurier. This painting hung in the bedroom of Henry Symes Lehr, the […]

Black Heart Stout

There are people who will tell you that a Liberal Arts degree, in the possession of an English major, is one of the most worthless pieces of paper in general circulation. But as I possess one such scrap of parchment, I am not one of those who will speak disparagingly of it. And this is […]

Super Bowl Quandry

Written on the eve of a Giants/Ravens Superbowl * * * January 28, 2001 If you are like me, picking a favorite in today’s game comes down to the choice between James Fenimore Cooper and Edgar Allan Poe. On one hand, we have New York State’s Cardiff Giant, today on exhibit in Cooperstown’s Farmers Museum […]

Nan Britton

July 1999 Life holds wonderful surprises. At the Skaneateles Library book sale this morning, I was in the tent, browsing the picked-over tables in the sale’s final hours, and came upon a book whose dark binding and cover titles had faded to the point of no return. But I was curious, picked it up, and […]

The Ghost of Nancy Drew

This article originally appeared in The Syracuse New Times, March 3-10, 1993. * * * One night at bedtime, my daughter asked me to read her a mystery. She was 8 and not quite ready for P.D. James, but I remembered I had an old Nancy Drew downstairs, a memento of the era when I […]

How Far?

December 16, 2002 I have been looking into Presidential Succession lately. I am sure you remember the general outline from high school civics: first the vice president, then the Speaker of the House, then the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. It gets interesting with cabinet officers, ranked by when their office was established. But […]


November 1998 I love the synchronicity of things. Last week at work, I was studying the history of the U.S. national soccer team, and my reading had brought me up to the Berlin Olympics. I found a National Archives spot on the Web that talked about them. The AAU, two governors and the U.S. rep […]