Category Archive 'Puritans'

21 May 2022

“The Last Cigarette”

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David Lehman, in the American Scholar, offers a eulogy to the cigarette in the cinema. It’s a nice article.

What a shame that the Puritans successfully banned smoking. You used to ask permission to smoke, and the common reply was:”It’s a free country.” Not anymore. Today’s rebellious young and the rural left-behinds sometimes smoke, but they pay a whopping fine with every puff. The average national price for twenty cents worth of cigarettes is $8.00, and you’ll pay closer to $12.00 in NYC.

I miss cigarettes myself: especially that first cigarette in the morning with one’s coffee, the one lit directly after a fine dinner, the chain-smoked cigarettes that stimulated one’s inspiration when writing. I quit decades ago because I declined to be bothered by the hankering for a smoke when the ban descended on business offices everywhere. I refused to be one of the pathetic lepers huddled surreptitiously outside shivering in the cold enslaved by the habit. I also had no intention of paying the monstrous premium tacked on going straight into the coffers of the State and the pockets of shysters from the litigation bar.

I thought recently of having a cigarette once again, for old times sake, and when I looked, I found that they stopped selling unfiltered Lucky Strikes in 2006. I couldn’t get my old brand without paying $35-$45 a pack “collectible” price.

I have considered writing an ironic “modest proposal,” in the vein of Jonathan Swift, advocating the return of cigarettes to movies, which might shorten life expectancy and thereby ease the costs of long-term health, but friends have dissuaded me on the grounds that the irony would not be grasped.

In 1929, when cigarettes were marketed to women as “torches of freedom,” well-dressed debutante types were paid to smoke while strolling down Fifth Avenue in the Easter Parade.

“Do you remember the last cigarette you had when you gave them up?”

“Which time?”

“I used to think that all I wanted was the respect of honorable men and the ungrudging love of beautiful women,” says Philip Marlow, the hospitalized mystery writer in Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective. “Now I know for sure that all I really want is a cigarette.”

In the first sentence of Too Many Cooks (1938), Rex Stout’s narrator, Archie Goodwin, says that he “lit a cigarette with the feeling that after it had calmed my nerves a little, I would be prepared to submit bids for a contract to move the Pyramid of Cheops from Egypt to the top of the Empire State Building with my bare hands, in a swimming-suit.” That’s quite a lift to be gotten from a smoke.

Leave aside the rush of nicotine. Forget the ritual of opening a pack of unfiltered Luckies, Camels, Chesterfields, Pall Malls, tamping them down, pulling one out, lighting it, discarding the match, taking the first, satisfying long drag. Cigarettes are the greatest prop of all time: puffing, taking in the smoke, drawing in a deep lungful and slowly expelling it, holding the cigarette between your index and middle fingers, motioning with that hand to underscore a point.

“Cigarettes are sublime,” Richard Klein asserts in a book he wrote to console himself when trying to quit smoking.[1] Sublime, maybe; sexy, for sure. “Cigarettes had to go,” the poet and noir connoisseur Suzanne Lummis concedes. “But the cinema lost a language. Aside from the smoking, the lighting of the cigarette could be handled so many ways with such different effects. Richard Conte, Robert Mitchum, all those guys—in two smooth gestures they’ll slide out that silver lighter and make the flame leap up, and we get the message—this is what unflappable cool looks like, virile confidence.”

There is the cigarette of loneliness, the cigarette of desperation: Jean Gabin holed up in his attic room, chain-smoking his last Gauloises, as the police close in on him in Le Jour se lève. There is the cigarette of heartbreak, the chain of cigarettes that won’t help you “forget her, or the way that you love her,” with all the force Sinatra can put into the singular female pronoun in “Learnin’ the Blues.” And there is the cigarette of intense nervousness, jeopardy, and fear smoked by Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, stunning in black cap and veil with black dots. When with a shaky hand Dunaway lights up, Jack Nicholson points out that she already has a cigarette going, and says: “Does my talking about your father make you nervous?”

Lighting somebody’s cigarette is a powerful gesture, suggesting intimacy or the desire for the same. “If you’re going to smoke, you gotta learn to carry matches,” Dix (Sterling Hayden) says when he lights up Doll (Jean Hagen) in The Asphalt Jungle. Aldo Ray does it for Anne Bancroft at the bar in Jacques Tourneur’s Nightfall, and Glenn Ford performs the gallantry for Gloria Grahame in Fritz Lang’s Human Desire. When Lana Turner falters trying to light her cigarette, John Garfield does the honors, foreshadowing the adultery and murder in The Postman Always Rings Twice. The movie producer played by Kirk Douglas teaches the self-same Lana Turner how to smoke sexily in The Bad and the Beautiful, while Dick Powell has the flame Claire Trevor needs in Murder, My Sweet.

Suzanne Lummis draws my attention to the moment “when Powell fires up his lighter and Trevor puts her hand on his and moves it toward the tip of her cigarette.” Says she: “You will help me, won’t you?” He: “Am I doing this for love, or will I get paid with money?” Toward the end of the movie, when “Helen, who is actually Velma, who is actually a killer … rises from the shadows with her cigarette, in her gown slashed with stripes of glinting sequins,” the images presage danger and disaster. Soon bullets will be flying and bodies dropping.

In her discussion of smoking, Lummis also cites In a Lonely Place. Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart) and Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) sit at a piano with other couples, listening to the silky-smooth rendition of the lounge singer, vocalist and pianist Hadda Brooks: I was a lonely one, till you. “He lights a cigarette for her, and she takes it in her mouth, such an intimate gesture,” Loomis writes. “He whispers to her. They are so in love. And it will never be that good again. Nothing is going to be that good again, for either of them. If these characters had lives beyond the credits at the end, we know that each on their dying bed looked back and thought, ‘that’s what happiness felt like.’ And because someone who unsettles their composure enters the club, that happiness didn’t even last the length of the song. That’s noir.”

A haiku:

I like to watch the stars,

in cafés and bars,

smoking in films noirs. …

RTWT

13 Mar 2019

Puritan Checklist

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Augustus Saint-Gaudens, The Puritan, Springfield, Massachusetts.

Rank historical figures by Puritan points:

HT: Tim of Angle.

07 Apr 2017

The Stock of the Puritans Has Apparently Died

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Eden Girma, Harvard ’18, performing.

The Crimson reports that “the Puritan stock” is going to be re-written out of Harvard’s alma mater song.

Harvard will hold a competition to change the final line of “Fair Harvard,” the University’s 181-year-old alma mater, which has read “Till the stock of the Puritans die” since its composition in 1836.

Government professor Danielle S. Allen, co-chair of Presidential Task Force for Inclusion and Belonging, announced the plans to change the lyric at a three-hour event the task force held Wednesday in Sanders Theatre. Convened by University President Drew G. Faust in September, the committee is tasked with evaluating Harvard’s efforts to create an inclusive environment and recommend improvements.

The group is also launching a second competition for “a new musical variant” of the alma mater that could be performed as electronic, hip hop, or spoken word music. The traditional music would remain the official mode of performance for the song, but the new mode would be “preserved by the University as an endorsed alternative,” according to the group’s website—“The inspiration is ‘Hamilton.’ The point is to use your imagination,” it reads.

University affiliates can submit lyric and music variant submissions on the task force’s website through September, and winners will be announced in spring 2018.

Also at Wednesday’s event, the “Afternoon of Engagement on Inclusion and Belonging” featured remarks from Faust, stories from Harvard affiliates, and collaborative exercises designed to inform the task force’s future discussions.

In her welcoming remarks, Faust shared a story about receiving letters from young girls around the world after she became the University’s first female president.

“Diversity, inclusion, and belonging are fundamental to our missions and to our identity and essential for creating a better university, and the responsibility for that is one shared by students, faculty, and staff,” she said.

Individuals from across the University then took to the stage to discuss their personal experiences with “belonging.”…

Eden H. Girma ’18… recalled participating in a protest at Primal Scream, a biannual naked run around Harvard Yard before the first day of finals. The protesters wanted to observe minute and a half of silence for black men killed by police, Girma said.

“Thinking back to that experience, with all of the emotions that I had, I can only see at the moment, that seems so clear to me, seeing two Harvards. One, a student body that felt so intrinsically implicated in the violence that was happening in the world, and another that seemed so blind to that,” Girma said. “Thinking retrospectively, I know there are so many nuances to this.”

——————————-

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“Fair Harvard”

Fair Harvard! we join in thy Jubilee throng,
And with blessings surrender thee o’er
By these Festival-rites, from the Age that is past,
To the Age that is waiting before.
O Relic and Type of our ancestors’ worth,
That hast long kept their memory warm,
First flow’r of their wilderness! Star of their night!
Calm rising thro’ change and thro’ storm.

Farewell! be thy destinies onward and bright!
To thy children the lesson still give,
With freedom to think, and with patience to bear,
And for Right ever bravely to live.
Let not moss-covered Error moor thee at its side,
As the world on Truth’s current glides by,
Be the herald of Light, and the bearer of Love,
Till the stock of the Puritans die.

Samuel Gilman, Class of 1811
[Revised 1998]

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Shouldn’t they also change the song’s title to “Dusky Harvard”?

The admission to elite Ivy League Schools of non-traditional applicants started out as an effort to make more national the constituency of such schools and to discharge what the administrations of those universities saw as a duty to supply a national leadership class. In those days, the basis for the admission of outsider applicants was a combination meritocratic grades and test scores with geographical diversity.

More recently, identity group representation and Affirmative Action compensatory admission of members of favored groups has played a major role in determining the makeup of classes at elite schools.

In my own day, we had only a small number of African-American classmates, but they were admitted on pretty much the same sort of bases as everybody else, getting only a small (equivalent to geographical diversity) number of extra points for being black. Our black classmates consequently integrated into their Yale classes quite conventionally.

A few years later, in the early 1970s, Yale had a larger constituency of African Americans, admitted with a much stronger dose of racial favoritism. Those admittees were commonly far less well prepared for Yale educationally and integrated far less well. They tended to hang out together in all black groups, and spent most of their time in the African-American identity house. One tended not to know any of them. A few were spectacular failures, winding up arrested for crimes on campus. One guy, admitted to Yale out of the New Haven inner city community, was busted for dealing heroin to townies out of his room in Jonathan Edwards.

Today, decades later, the representation of non-traditional minority groups at these elite schools is much larger still, and those groups of students are more unruly, more obsessed with group identity and historical grievances, more self-entitled than ever.

In the early decades of the 20th Century, presidents of elite schools like Harvard placed a strict quota on Jewish admissions, fearing that intensely keen Jewish academic competition would change the composition of classes and the constituency of such schools completely, remaking them into Jewish institutions.

Today, minority admittees and presiding administrations eagerly lobby for fundamentally changing the composition, constituency, and even the complexion of those schools. Matters have reached a point at which the non-traditional groups feel entitled to rename buildings and to purge references and memorials to illustrious alumni and benefactors on the basis of their own amour propre. Now, at Harvard, they are sending the founders and original constituency of the college into exile from the school’s alma mater. All this causes me to wonder: had the people who initiated the effort at diversity admissions been able to foresee this occurring, would they ever have admitted any of these minorities at all in the first place?

18 Sep 2013

A Boy Named Humiliation

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A Puritan Family

Joseph Norwood, at Slate, admires the religiously enthusiastic Onomastic customs of Puritan New England.

My personal favorite Puritan name is If Christ Had Not Died For Thy Sins Thou Shouldst Be Damned Forever Barebones.

Even after these kinds of expressive of over-the-top religious sentiments personal names went out of fashion, Puritan New Englanders still continued naming their children, right up into the early 20th Century, in colorful and distinctive ways. I actually used to know a Reverdy Whitlock. But my favorite new era Puritan name, dating from the late 18th century, would have to be Epaphroditus Champion.


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