George Washington
A Collection
W. B. Allen
(Liberty Fund)
This one is a fatty, 675 nicely annotated pages. It begins with "The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior," all 110 of them, including

    Kill no vermin, or fleas, lice, ticks, etc. in the sight of others; if you see any filth or thick spittle put your foot dexterously upon it; if it be upon the clothes of your companions, put it off privately, and if it be upon your own clothes, return thanks to him who puts it off.

There are "Fragments of the Discarded First Inaugural Address, April 1789," carefully annotated by the editor, and, from our reading of it, well off discarded as it does run on and on and on. One of Washington's problems --- which he agreeably confesses --- is that of prolixity. He just couldn't stop putting out the words. And as we waded though these 235 documents, letters, speeches, and proclamations, we were wondering how the good man even had the time to run the country, much less do extensive surveying, fight the Revolution, manage Mount Vernon, and offer exhaustive advice to the likes of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Marquis de LaFayette, Patrick Henry, John Jay, and the many other august personages of the time.

Most of all, Washington comes off as a good man. Concerned for the welfare of others, quick to defuse explosive situations, always courteous even to those who made his life troublesome, never abrasive.

The document with which this fine volume ends, "Last Will and Testament, July 9, 1799" is a show-stopper. It does ramble, but the detail, my god, the detail.

Certain shares go to the Liberty-Hall Academy, the "gold headed Cane left me by Doctr. Franklin" goes to brother Charles Washington, "To my compatriot in arms, and old and intimate friend Doctr. Craik, I give my Bureau (or as the Cabinet makers call it, Tambour Secretary)," to nephew Bushrod Washington a certain land

    Beginning at the ford of Dogue run, near my Mill, and extending along the road, and bounded thereby as it now goes, and ever has gone since my recollection of it, to the ford of little hunting Creek at the Gum spring until it comes to a knowl, [etc. etc.]

This is a man who was part of the land, knew it, knew it well in all its meets and bounds.

And the slaves. Ah, there is the rub, isn't it? The good Father of his Country, Statesman, President ... what is he to do with "all the Slaves which I hold in my own right?" Give them their freedom? Well, OK, but only after Martha dies, because to do so beforehand,

    tho' earnestly wished by me, be attended with such insuperable difficulties on account of their intermixture by Marriages with the Dowler Negroes, as to excite the most painful sensations.

Even at the very end, we suspect, the good general knew of the weaknesses he had with words --- that he loved them too much--- so that when he reflects on what he has just written, he comments,

    But having endeavored to be plain, and explicit in all the Devises, even at the expence [sic] of prolixity, perhaps of tautology, I hope, and trust, that no disputes will arise concerning them; but if, contrary to expectation, the case should be otherwise ... My Will and direction expressly is, that all disputes (if unhappily any should arise), shall be decided by three impartial and intelligent men, known for their probity and good understanding...

"Even at the expence of prolixity, perhaps of tautology..." Ah, George. Who couldn't help but love one who would coin such a phrase, and at the same time, out of delicacy, at those embarrassing times, tell us to be sure to place our foot "dexterously upon the thick spittle" to protect the sensibility of others.

--- L. W. Milam

A State of

Victor David Hanson
(Encounter Books)
Victor David Hanson grew up in Selma, California, worked for a while as a small farmer, and now teaches classic Greek and Latin at the University of California, Fresno. He has a distinct problem with all the Mexicans who have turned up in his area over the last few years. This book is eloquent testimonial to his regret and fear: regret over the passing of rural life from forty years ago, fear that the immigrants from Mexico are disturbing the old order. Mexifornia has already stirred up no small controversy in the newspapers and on the air.

The fault, Hanson feels, flows from Mexico itself --- with its lack of civil liberties, its corruption, and its general chaos. The other big villain (in his eyes) are the schools, push-overs for new "classes on Chicano pride" that teach scarcely anything about "the seminal events in American history:"

    What is missing in the new dispensation is any sense that the world in which we now live --- the cosmos of universities, the rule of law, antibiotics, surgery and eyeglasses --- for good or ill evolved from the world of Father Serra, not from the indigenous peoples of California whom he may or may not have oppressed.

"Too many unassimilated Mexicans," is his mantra. He tells us that small towns in the Central Valley show "a critical mass that ... more resemble those left behind in Mexico, and therefore [are] less safe, secure and desirable places to live." One second-generation Chicano friend of his says that "if I wanted to live in Mexico, I don't need to live in Parlier," Parlier being the small town where they make their home.

    "If we were to entertain the attitudes toward women that exist in Mexico; stress the need to favor relatives and friends rather than follow the blind protocols of civil service; or copy the Mexican constitution, court system, schools, universities, tax code, bureaucracy, energy industry or sewage system, then millions of Mexicans would simply stay put."

Mexican history, Hanson is telling us, is one of continuing corruption and misrule. Mexicans come to the United States to escape this, all the while pulling their view of the law and their degraded values along with them. More specifically, they invade his peach orchard, steal the fruit, dump trash in front of his house, get drunk and drive their smog-producing lumbering old cars through his fence.

Those youngsters in public school and college in the U. S. are taught cultural pride in ill-designed courses that give no love for their new country, he claims. When he was a kid growing up in the Central Valley, Hanson avers that the Mexicans, Armenians, Blacks, and Orientals were shamed by teachers if they forgot that they were Americans first, other nationalities second (his own family was from Scandinavia). The operating system, he is telling us, should be one of maximum assimilation.

§     §     §

If this guy were just some redneck, it would be easy to kiss off Mexifornia, but Hanson not only teaches Classical literature, he speaks with pride of his Chicano students that have gone on to get their PhDs in classical literature. One cannot help be sympathetic to his despair over what is happening to American schooling.

At the same time, his conclusions do seem a little overwrought, if not downright screwy. I suspect it all flows from his romanticism. When he tells of growing up in the Central Valley, we get the feeling that he is talking of a California version of Lake Woebegone:

    Apparently our rather unsophisticated teachers thought that the purpose of learning was to master the English language and acquire the rudiments of math and American literature. As I can best fathom it some forty years later, their aim was to create a sweeping egalitarianism, a mass of students who would reach high school all with about the same chances of success or failure. And so we were given demerits for mispronouncing names, writing left-handed, and other felonies like chewing gum, handing in our papers without our names written on the upper-right-hand corner, and wearing Frisco or Payday baggy pants and pointy boots. ... Latins were asked by the district speech therapist, Mrs. Albright, to say "A Chevy with a stick-shift" --- a drill to ensure that there was no sign of a Mexican accent, and that, like Armenians and Japanese, they could filter undetected into mainstream society and prosper in the judgmental world of commerce.

It is a glorified picture of life and times in the U.S.A. of the early 1960s, presented along with a rather clouded view of present-day Mexico. But Hanson neglects to see the harshness of that time for Blacks, Mexicans, and Orientals.

I can remember those years. We "Mescans" were forbidden to penetrate into certain areas of the town, into certain places of business. My experience was of a prejudice that ran so deep that we never even saw it, much less questioned it, even as we occasionally went into the "wrong" restaurant, innocently planned to go to college and study for a career that was, we were told by our advisors, "inappropriate." All these things would become painfully obvious to us only when we dared to step out of the accepted course.

Even more egregious, Hanson ignores the fact that in the years before he came of age, his idealized America had seen to it that anyone with Japanese ancestry had spent the war in an internment camp, returning home to a world where all one's possessions were lost forever. The rest of us felt ... no we knew ... that what we had was just as easy to upset, that the world we lived in was very, very fragile.

I am guessing that Hanson's sour view of Mexico itself apparently comes from not knowing how that country works. He deplores corruption, but perhaps he has never gotten entangled by the bureaucracy that runs so many of our lives to the north, the cold bureaucracy involved in, say, something as simple as getting a permit to drive a car. Those people are paid to say No Way to any humane bending of the rules. In Mexico, there is always the "poor man's lawyer" known as the mordida.

And it's wonderful irony that Hanson's ideals of schooling are alive and well just over the border in Mexican schools. English, math, science, history are required. If you are absent without excuse more than three times in one semester, or commit minor infractions, you are out on your ear. You are to wear a uniform, and those who can't make it in the 3 Rs might as well adjourn to the fields to begin their lifelong work.

Perhaps instead of lamenting the loss of the past, Hanson should propose some sort of annual transfer where students being so sordidly spoiled in American schools can spend a winter in the no-nonsense educational system of Zacatecas, Sonora, or Oaxaca. There his standards of education are a part of the way of life of the children.

The main, and most disturbing aspect of this angry book is that it seems to embody the old wheeze of so many years ago, "some of my best friends are..." (Jews / Negroes / Orientals / Mescans") --- crying out "I'm not prejudiced" so loudly that the opposite is, of course, true. Despite Hanson's claim of affection for his Mexican-American students (and, even, his Mexican-American in-laws), there is more than a hint of a loathing for the poor, uneducated Mexicans who have slipped across the border merely to better themselves, to share in the wealth of this impossibly rich country. Such underground hostility veiled in platitudes of love is far more corrosive, I suggest, than the in-your-face variety.

--- Carlos Amantea

Bloody Mary
Sharon Solwitz
Claire is married to Leo. He's an eye-doctor. They have two daughters, Nora (reliable, sixteenish) and Hadley (thirteenish, moody).

Claire begins to have epileptic seizures, starts taking medication, goes to a psychotherapist, begins sculpting, starts an affair with a fat, red-haired, green-eyed art teacher. They do it on the floor of his office.

Dr. Leo is (ho!) blind --- doesn't know squat about his errant wife, at least not where I left off, around page 140 or so. I would have gone on, I suppose, if it all weren't so tired.

Tired marriage, tired mother, bored daughters, plumpish lover with a bald spot. And slight writing, very very slight. No fire. When I'm in a book, I want to be shot full of words. I want the author to pick me up and twirl me around and knock the stuffing out of me. I want something I've never guessed, seen, divined before.

For Claire, the most breath-taking experiences seem to be taking tacks out of the stairs, falling backwards in a Doestoevskian ecstasy ... or lying face down on the table as the art teacher, Bodey Marcus (Bodey Marcus!) has his way with her doggie-style.

There are some fiddlings about with this or that myth --- Icarus appears in Hadley's writing class, as does Theseus, which must mean something important. One of Marcus's students does an installation --- you are led by a man in a Nazi uniform into a room with shower heads, the lights go out, there are recordings of people screaming, you're left there for twenty minutes, come out dazed.

It's all quite wearisome, especially when all I have to show for it is a longing that the author make me happy or sad or melancholic or joyous ... anything but bored. But all Ms. Solwitz was able to do was to make me as tired as her characters. I coulda done the same bungee jumping.

I was only finally able to come back to life when the book fell from my lifeless fingers and I drifted off ... I found myself dreaming of a delicious cool refreshing eye-popping Bloody Mary.

--- Lolita Lark

Voices from the
Trail of Tears

Vicki Rozema, Editor
The enforced migration imposed on the Chickasaws, Choctaws, Cherokees, Creeks and Seminoles may have involved as many as 100,000 men, women and children. Transportation was primitive --- overcrowded boats part way --- wagons, oxen and walking for the more than 1500 miles.

The very old as well as the very young were required to make the journey. Even though there were few records kept, demographer Russell Thornton has since estimated that the Creeks and Seminoles lost close to 50% of their population. Estimated mortality for the Cherokees was around 8,000. They referred to it as Nu-No-Du-Na-Tlo-Hi-Lu, "The Trail Where They Cried."

It was all duly approved by Congress in the Indian Removal Act (1830) and enforced by Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. It was particularly poignant in the case of the Cherokees who had deep roots in the Alabama/Georgia countryside, but after gold was discovered at Dahlonega, they were outnumbered, rendered powerless, despite decisions in their favor by the courts.

Editor Rozema refers to it as "a blight on the memory of the American people:"

    the terrible injustice of broken treaties, discriminatory laws, unenforced court rulings, land grabbing, and ethnocentric intolerance.

What she has done here is to offer us twenty-eight editorials, excerpts of journals, letters, and official reports, acts and resolutions --- complete with appropriate introduction to source and background. Some of the excerpts are dry and official, some pure accounting (the number of those making the journey, the cost of the food, those being born, dying); others are passionate and agonized, even high art. One by Cherokee leader William Coodey tells of being there when the order was given to move,

    At this very moment a low sound of distant thunder fell on my ear. In almost an exact western direction a dark spiral cloud was rising above the horizon and sent forth a murmur I almost fancied a voice of divine indignation for the wrongs of my poor and unhappy countrymen, driven by brutal power from all they loved and cherished in the land of their fathers, to gratify the cravings of artifice.

--- H. G. Howells

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