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Book of Days – April 30 – First Installment of A Tale of Two Cities
Sunday, April 30, 2017, 6:00 AM

On this date in 1859, the first installment of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities was published in All the Year Round. Subsequent installments would be published until completed on November 26, 1859. For today’s writing, A Tale of Two Cities, Book the First–Recalled to Life, Chapter I. The Period.

A Tale of Two Cities

Book the First—Recalled to Life

I. The Period

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way— in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

There were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England; there were a king with a large jaw and a queen with a fair face, on the throne of France. In both countries it was clearer than crystal to the lords of the State preserves of loaves and fishes, that things in general were settled for ever.

It was the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Spiritual revelations were conceded to England at that favoured period, as at this. Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday, of whom a prophetic private in the Life Guards had heralded the sublime appearance by announcing that arrangements were made for the swallowing up of London and Westminster. Even the Cock-lane ghost had been laid only a round dozen of years, after rapping out its messages, as the spirits of this very year last past (supernaturally deficient in originality) rapped out theirs. Mere messages in the earthly order of events had lately come to the English Crown and People, from a congress of British subjects in America: which, strange to relate, have proved more important to the human race than any communications yet received through any of the chickens of the Cock-lane brood.

France, less favoured on the whole as to matters spiritual than her sister of the shield and trident, rolled with exceeding smoothness down hill, making paper money and spending it. Under the guidance of her Christian pastors, she entertained herself, besides, with such humane achievements as sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off, his tongue torn out with pincers, and his body burned alive, because he had not kneeled down in the rain to do honour to a dirty procession of monks which passed within his view, at a distance of some fifty or sixty yards. It is likely enough that, rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees, when that sufferer was put to death, already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history. It is likely enough that in the rough outhouses of some tillers of the heavy lands adjacent to Paris, there were sheltered from the weather that very day, rude carts, bespattered with rustic mire, snuffed about by pigs, and roosted in by poultry, which the Farmer, Death, had already set apart to be his tumbrils of the Revolution. But that Woodman and that Farmer, though they work unceasingly, work silently, and no one heard them as they went about with muffled tread: the rather, forasmuch as to entertain any suspicion that they were awake, was to be atheistical and traitorous.

In England, there was scarcely an amount of order and protection to justify much national boasting. Daring burglaries by armed men, and highway robberies, took place in the capital itself every night; families were publicly cautioned not to go out of town without removing their furniture to upholsterers’ warehouses for security; the highwayman in the dark was a City tradesman in the light, and, being recognised and challenged by his fellow-tradesman whom he stopped in his character of “the Captain,” gallantly shot him through the head and rode away; the mail was waylaid by seven robbers, and the guard shot three dead, and then got shot dead himself by the other four, “in consequence of the failure of his ammunition:” after which the mail was robbed in peace; that magnificent potentate, the Lord Mayor of London, was made to stand and deliver on Turnham Green, by one highwayman, who despoiled the illustrious creature in sight of all his retinue; prisoners in London gaols fought battles with their turnkeys, and the majesty of the law fired blunderbusses in among them, loaded with rounds of shot and ball; thieves snipped off diamond crosses from the necks of noble lords at Court drawing-rooms; musketeers went into St. Giles’s, to search for contraband goods, and the mob fired on the musketeers, and the musketeers fired on the mob, and nobody thought any of these occurrences much out of the common way. In the midst of them, the hangman, ever busy and ever worse than useless, was in constant requisition; now, stringing up long rows of miscellaneous criminals; now, hanging a housebreaker on Saturday who had been taken on Tuesday; now, burning people in the hand at Newgate by the dozen, and now burning pamphlets at the door of Westminster Hall; to-day, taking the life of an atrocious murderer, and to-morrow of a wretched pilferer who had robbed a farmer’s boy of sixpence.


All these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five. Environed by them, while the Woodman and the Farmer worked unheeded, those two of the large jaws, and those other two of the plain and the fair faces, trod with stir enough, and carried their divine rights with a high hand. Thus did the year one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five conduct their Greatnesses, and myriads of small creatures—the creatures of this chronicle among the rest—along the roads that lay before them.

Book of Days – April 29 – Joan of Arc arrives at Orléans
Saturday, April 29, 2017, 4:47 AM

On this date in 1429, Joan of Arc arrived at Orléans, relieving the English siege, which ended less than two weeks later, on May 8.  It represented the first French victory with Joan of Arc present with its army and its first major victory in the Hundred Years War since its loss at Agincourt in 1415.

Today’s writing is an excerpt from Robert Southey’s epic Joan of Arc, the section entitled Rheims.

Joan of Arc entering Orleans 227x300 Book of Days   April 29   Joan of Arc arrives at OrléansJoan of Arc Entering Orléans
by Jean-Jacques Scherrer (1887)

blankblankbla THE MORN was fair
When Rheims re-echoed to the busy hum
Of multitudes, for high solemnity
Assembled. To the holy fabric moves
The long procession, through the streets bestrewn
With flowers and laurel boughs. The courtier throng
Were there, and they in Orleans, who endured
The siege right bravely; Gaucour, and La Hire,
The gallant Xaintrailles, Boussac, and Chabannes,
Alenson, and the bravest of the brave,
The Bastard Orleans, now in hope elate,
Soon to release from hard captivity
His dear-beloved brother; gallant men,
And worthy of eternal memory,
For they, in the most perilous times of France,
Despaired not of their country. By the king
The delegated Damsel passed along,
Clad in her battered arms. She bore on high
Her hallowed banner to the sacred pile,
And fixed it on the altar, whilst her hand
Poured on the monarch’s head the mystic oil,
Wafted of yore by milk-white dove from heaven
(So legends say) to Clovis when he stood
At Rheims for baptism; dubious since that day,
When Tolbiac plain reeked with his warrior’s blood,
And fierce upon their flight the Almanni prest,
And reared the shout of triumph; in that hour
Clovis invoked aloud the Christian God
And conquered: waked to wonder thus, the chief
Became love’s convert, and Clotilda led
Her husband to the font.
blankblankbla The missioned Maid
Then placed on Charles’s brow the crown of France,
And back retiring, gazed upon the king
One moment, quickly scanning all the past,
Till in a tumult of wild wonderment
She wept aloud. The assembled multitude
In awful stillness witnessed: then at once,
As with a tempest-rushing noise of winds,
Lifted their mingled clamors. Now the Maid
Stood as prepared to speak, and waved her hand,
And instant silence followed.
blankblankbla “King of France!”
She cried, “at Chinon, when my gifted eye
Knew thee disguised, what inwardly the spirit
Prompted, I promised, with the sword of God,
To drive from Orleans far the English wolves,
And crown thee in the rescued walls of Rheims.
All is accomplished. I have here this day
Fulfilled my mission, and anointed thee
King over this great nation.”

Book of Days – April 28 – Mutiny on the Bounty
Friday, April 28, 2017, 6:34 AM

On this date in 1789, Fletcher Christian led a group of disaffected crewmen in seizing the captain of the HMS Bounty, Lieutenant William Bligh, forcing him and 18 loyal members of the crew into the ship’s launch, and setting them adrift in the South Pacific.  Bligh and the loyalists managed, through much hardship, to navigate the boat more than 3,500 nautical miles (4,000 miles) to reach safety in Coupang in Timor, after a nearly disastrous layover in Tofua.  Bligh made it back to England in March 1790 and was treated as a hero, acquitted during a court martial trial for having lost the ship.  In November 1790, the HMS Pandora began its voyage to capture and return the mutineers for court martial.

Fourteen of the mutineers were arrested in Tahiti and transported back to England.  In a harrowing voyage, only 10 made it back to England alive.  The trial resulted in four acquittals and six convictions.  Of the six, two were pardoned, one obtained a stay of execution, and three were hanged.  But the trial turned out badly for the reputation of William Bligh, who was revealed as a cruel and overbearing leader.

Christian and eight other mutineers left Tahiti with 20 Tahitian captives, 14 of whom were women. They headed in search of Pitcairn Island, an uninhabited island, which they finally managed to find in January 1790.  There, after dismantling and burning the HMS Bounty, Christian established a colony made up of mutineers and the captive Tahitians.  And there they remained undiscovered until February 1808, by which time, all but one of the mutineers was dead, mostly having died violent deaths, including Christian himself.

From the beginning, the Mutiny on the Bounty captured the public imagination and has resulted through the years in a variety of literary and cinematic works.  Today’s writing is an excerpt from Lord Byron’s poem, The Island, the first canto of which tells the story of the mutiny and Bligh’s voyage.  The poem, and even the first canto, is too long to reproduce in full here.  I will only publish the first part of the first canto, but will provide a link to the remainder.  Also included is a link to a recorded reading of the poem.  Lord Byron still held a favorable view of William Bligh, as is reflected in Canto the First of the poem.  The remaining three cantos related Lord Byron’s imagination as to Christian and his mutineers’ lives on Pitcairn Island.  It is more fiction than history.

The Island, available at Project Gutenberg.


The Island

Canto the First:Part I

The morning watch was come; the vessel lay
Her course, and gently made her liquid way;
The cloven billow flashed from off her prow
In furrows formed by that majestic plough;
The waters with their world were all before;
Behind, the South Sea’s many an islet shore.
The quiet night, now dappling, ‘gan to wane,
Dividing darkness from the dawning main;
The dolphins, not unconscious of the day,
Swam high, as eager of the coming ray;
The stars from broader beams began to creep,
And lift their shining eyelids from the deep;
The sail resumed its lately shadowed white,
And the wind fluttered with a freshening flight;
The purpling Ocean owns the coming Sun,
But ere he break—a deed is to be done.

A reading of The Island, available through LibriVox.

Book of Days – April 27 – The Sultana Disaster
Thursday, April 27, 2017, 6:41 AM

Today, April 27, is the 152nd anniversary of the greatest maritime disaster in the history of the United States.  Three weeks earlier, Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, not formally ending the Civil War, but assuring a Union victory nonetheless.  As a consequence, the Confederacy released Union prisoners of war which it was holding.  The Sultana, a privately-owned steamboat plying the waters of the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers, had left New Orleans on April 21, 1865, heading up river.  On April 23, the boat stopped at Vicksburg, Mississippi, where the captain negotiated with Union officials to take on board released POWs, receiving $5 for each enlisted man and $10 for each commissioned officer.  The Sultana was designed and approved to carry 376 passenger; it had on board 2155 passenger.

Sultana at Helena Arkansas 300x169 Book of Days   April 27   The Sultana DisasterThe overloaded Sultana at Helena, Arkansas

While at Vicksburg, the captain had a boilermaker examine some issues with the boilers.  The boilermaker recommended immediate repairs.  The captain instead had him patch the problems and promised to have the repairs made when he reached St. Louis.  On April 26, the Sultana stopped at Memphis, where it added more coal and at 1 a.m. on April 27, it continued its journey upriver.  One hour later, the boilers, laboring against strong currents and a grossly overloaded boat, exploded.  The explosion was massive and heard in Memphis, two miles away.  More than 100 men were killed instantly in the explosion and approximately 1700 total were killed, either by drowning or exposure to the frigid waters of the river.

The Sultana disaster killed hundreds more than the sinking of the Titanic 47 years later, but between the surrender of Lee, the assassination of Lincoln, and the manhunt and killing of John Wilkes Booth, it was little reported at the time and little remembered since.

April 27 is also the birth date of Ulysses S. Grant, born on this date in 1822 in Point Pleasant, Ohio.

Today’s writing is a poem written by one of the survivors of the disaster, William H. Norton, Company C, 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

The Burning of the Sultana

Midnight’s dreary hour has past,
The mists of night are falling Fast,
Sultana sounds her farewell blast,
And braves the might stream;
The swollen river’s banks overflow,
The deaden clouds are hanging low
And veil the stars bright silver glow,
And darkness reigns supreme.

Her engine fires now brighter burn,
Her mammoth wheels now faster turn,
Her dipping paddles lightly spurn
The river’s foaming crest:
And drowsy Memphis, lost to sight,
Now fainter shows her beacon light,
As Sultana steams in the dead of night,
And the Union soldiers rest.

The sleeping soldiers dream of home,
To them the long-sought day had come,
No more in prison pens to moan,
Or guarded by the gray;
At last the changing fates of war
Had swing their prison “gates ajar,”
And “laurel wreaths” from the North afar
Await their crowning day.

For Peace has raised her magic hand,
The Stars and Stripes wave o’er the land,
The conquered foemen now disband,
“As melts the mowing dew;”
And mothers wear their wonted smile,
And aged sires the hours beguile,
And plighted love awaits the while
The coming of the blue.

On sails the steamer through the gloom,
On sleep the soldiers to their doom,
And death’s dark angel oh! so soon-
Calls loud the muster roll.
A-burst-a-crash-and-timbers fly,

And-flame-and-steam-leap to the sky,
And-men awakened-but-to die-
Commend to God their souls.

Out from the flame’s encircling fold,
Like a mighty rush of warriors, bold,
They leap to the river dark and cold,
And search for the hidden shore.
In the cabins, -and-pinioned-there,
A mid-the-smoke-and-fire-and-glare,
Is heard above the roar.

Out on, the river’s rolling tide,
Out from the steamer’s burning side,
Out where the circle is growing wide,
They battle with the waves.
And drowning men each other clasp,
And writhing in death’s closing grasp
They struggle bravely, but at last
Sink to watery graves.

Oh! for the star’s bright silver light
Oh! for a moon to dispel the night!
Oh! for the hand that should guide aright
The way to the distant land!
Clinging to driftwood and floating down,
Caught in the eddies and whirling around,
Washed to the flooded banks are found
The survivors of that band.

Norton, William H. “The Burning of the Sultana.” Loss of the Sultana and Reminiscences of Survivors. Comp. Chester D. Berry. Lansing, 1892. 12-13.

Book of Days—April 26, 2017
Wednesday, April 26, 2017, 9:48 AM

As a new feature, Gregory Laughlin, Associate Professor of Law and Law Library Director at the Cumberland School of Law, Samford University, will post from time-to-time writings which relate to the day of the year or of the Church Calendar, along with, where available, links to readings of those writing available on YouTube on elsewhere. This will serve as a sort of literary book of days, or, rather, blog of days, if you will.

Today, April 26, was the date of the baptism of William Shakespeare in 1564 at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was the third child and first son of John and Mary (Arden) Shakespeare, and the first to survive into adulthood. The Shakespeares would have five more children, four of whom survived to be adults. John Shakespeare was a prosperous glover and leather worker and the son of a farmer, Richard Shakespeare. Fifty years after his death, Thomas Plume related of a conversation with Sir John Mennes, in which the latter reported that John Shakespeare had told him that “Will was a good honest fellow, but he durst have cracked a jest with him at any time.”

In commemoration of William Shakespeare’s baptism, Sonnet 71:

No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell;
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so,
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if (I say) you look upon this verse,
When I (perhaps) compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse,
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan,
And mock you with me after I am gone.

A reading of this sonnet by the actor David Tennant:

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