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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas with George Templeton Strong

Christmas was a less strenuous holiday for George Templeton Strong than New Year’s Day, when respectable New Yorkers were expected to pay calls on as many of their friends and acquaintances as they could fit in.

Perhaps for that reason, he may have enjoyed it more. (For more Strong, follow me on Twitter at @StrongsCivilWar and @StrongsNewYork.)

CHRISTMAS — and the best day in the year, but its cheerfulness rather damped by a constant drizzle of rain with an accompaniment of fog. Went to St. Paul’s in the morning and stayed home in the afternoon. 12.25.1836

Went to Niblo’s after tea with Anthon to hear Horn’s Christmas Bells again. It’s decidedly a good thing — many passages remarkably neat and graceful — and I enjoyed myself highly. 12.29.1842

With Dickens’s clever (but mighty absurd) extravaganza, the Prose Christmas Carol, I’ve been very comfortable and strong of heart ,,, The blue devils are scattered, and I trust that I shall “live to my dying day in despite of mine enemies.” 1.27.1844

Christmas Day. To church as usual, and heard Higbee. Mama couldn’t go; she had an unlucky fall yesterday that produced a certain discoloration about one eye, not altogether ornamental. Adjourned to St. Peter’s and heard the finale of one of Mozart’s masses. Looked in at Appleton’s and got a copy of Martin Chuzzlewit wherewith I’ve been making myself comfortable, for the book’s far better than I expected and Mr. Dickens’s tone of coloring is exactly in harmony with Christmas, though it won’t do for everyday use. 12.25.1844

Yesterday was Christmas. Lucky it’s essentially an indoor and domestic festival, for the weather was of a kind to suffocate rejoicing and to make all festivity a hopeless thing except in the house and with the blinds closed.... Put myself into an omnibus and went ploughing and lunging down to Greenwich Street. The driver was drunk and the progress of the vehicle was like that of a hippopotamus through one of the quagmires of South Africa. 12.26.1848

Christmas eve. Very appropriate bitter frosty night. Evening has been quite lively; Ellie receiving and sending out presents, and enthusiastic over the black lace I got her. Sophie has dressed up a little table with all Johnny’s presents (including hers and Louisa’s) and candles and Christmas greens, and everybody that came into the house has been trotted up to the nursery to see. Sophie’s laugh and ecstacy over each new present that arrived was worth the ascent of two flights of stairs. 12.24.1853

After a sleety Sunday, Christmas introduced the thaw. It was a beautiful, mild, sunshiny day, “very good walking, overhead.” At Trinity the music was uncommonly good and abundant; it was almost a “choral service.” Higbee preached very splendidly. 12.27.1854

Most of the morning spent in the active pursuit of Christmas presents; after dinner, in arranging Johnny’s for his astonishment, on the table in the middle parlor — Napoleon’s Old Guard, the elephant with the moveable head, and so on, the railroad train (“long cars”) being deposited on the floor. 12.24.1855

Christmas — always a day to be prized; one can’t have very many of them, in the nature of things, and this one has been altogether good and genial and bright.... This Christmas began yesterday afternoon when I met Ellie at Trinity Church, where were some special services; the children got together, the church quite filled, a Christmas tree in the porch hung with lanterns and toys, distribution of presents, “Christmas Carol” sung, and an assemblage of clergy in the chancel, and marching with David Lyon at their head (his sextonical staff florid with a winter bouquet and streamers of ribbon) in stately procession down the middle aisle to inspect the Christmas tree… 12.25.1856

Christmas Eve has been duly celebrated. I was stunned and sore with headache through the day, but it has passed off. Presents came in and went out. Mine to Ellie were an ermine cape and an ugly staring three-quarter length “imperial photograph” of my own delectable person. 12.24.1857

Christmas Eve. The day has been one of sunshine, moral and meteorological; everything has looked Christmaslike, or Christmatoid, Christmatic, or Christmal. Shops are full of business, streets are thronged; every other pedestrian carries a parcel or two, or escorts one or more eager, expectant children with big eyes fixed on the gorgeous succession of shop windows. 12.24.1858

Christmas has passed off satisfactorily. It has been the clearest of clear days and not so cold as yesterday. After breakfast, the children were admitted to the beatific vision of their presents and made the middle parlor a bedlam for an hour. Then we went to church. Great crowd. Aisles full of standing people. Vinton’s sermon respectable. Music good. Wonderful to relate, the anthem was the “Gloria” of Mozart’s No. 12. Has a note of Mozart’s ever been sung in Trinity Church before? 12.25.1863

Monday and Christmas Eve…. Presents came in, were unpacked and arranged in the middle room, the boys being sent off to bed. But they were hallooing till near nine o’clock in high excitement. Then, or an hour later, we had our traditional roast oysters. 12.24.1866

Among Christmas presents I note a copy of the “Legende of St. Gwendoline,” a folio, with photographs from Jack Ehninger’s crayon drawings. They seem the best work Jack has ever done. Another folio, Tennyson’s “Guinevere and Vivien,” from The Idylls of the King, is illustrated by G. Doré, and the engravings are favorable specimens of M. Doré’s art. They shew his good points, and his bad points do not appear. But he cannot draw the form or face of a pretty or of a beautiful woman even when stimulated by the text of Tennyson. 12.25.1867

Xmas, and a happy Christmas it has been, Dei grati. Morning clear and bright; afternoon and evening cloudy and blusterous, with a heavy snowstorm seemingly just at hand…. This evening a small symposium…. Johnny found his duty of accompanying mamma on his ’cello before a few people less formidable than he expected. 12.25.1868

Walked uptown this afternoon Christmassing. Broadway thronged with folk on the same errand. Was weak enough to stop at Tiffany’s, resolved to be parsimonious this year and spend not more than $20 on a present for Ellie. But I was inflamed by a pretty cameo brooch, and involved myself to the extent of near $200, which was sensible of me, especially as I had been obliged to subtract a little more capital from the Trust Co. this morning to pay current bills. 12.23.1869

Christmas eve; clear and wintry. Delatour’s thermometer 24º at noon. Tonight seems colder and is windy. Rampaged after Christmas presents on my way downtown. It is at this season that a lean bank account is most afflictive. But we ought not to grumble. This is a very black Christmas to thousands in France, and in Deutschland, too. 12.24.1870

The small ruffians of the streets began to blow the trumpet in Zion at an early hour this morning. It’s a tin trumpet, and its brayings are now rising and falling outside. I remember no Christmas eve when the outward and visible and audible signs of the Christmas feast have been more prominent. 12.24.1873

Christmas. Seldom a brighter or better Christmas. Sky crystalline and temperature just chill enough to be seasonable and befitting the day. To Trinity at nine-thirty, where I was joined by Ellie an hour later.... The Schubert music was beautiful and well rendered. Haydn’s Gloria Tibi (that is, the Kyrie) is most Christmasesque, joyous and lovely. 12.25.1874

Posted by geoff on 12/25 at 10:22 AM
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Categories: BooksGeorge Templeton Strong

A Natural Curiosity - Geoff Wisner's Blog
Saturday, December 06, 2014

Coming in 2016: THOREAU’S WILDFLOWERS, illustrated by Barry Moser!

imageI am delighted to report that I have just signed a contract with Yale University Press to publish my next book, Thoreau’s Wildflowers! The book is scheduled to appear in the spring of 2016.

Thoreau’s Wildflowers is a selection of observations from Thoreau’s Journal between 1850 and 1861, arranged by the day of the year. The text is illustrated with more than 200 long-unavailable black and white drawings by Barry Moser, first published in the 1979 book Flowering Plants of Massachusetts. I am very grateful to Mr. Moser for allowing me to reprint this beautiful work.

Thoreau’s Wildflowers also includes an introduction by myself, and Ray Angelo‘s classic essay ”Thoreau as Botanist.”

For a taste of what you’ll find in the book, follow me on Twitter at @ThoreausFlowers.

Posted by geoff on 12/06 at 04:52 PM
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Categories: ArtBooksThoreau

A Natural Curiosity - Geoff Wisner's Blog
Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A page from Thoreau’s Journal

This is a page from Thoreau’s Journal, scanned from a copy of the original volume held at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York. It startles me a bit to see the sketch of a familiar object like an acorn embedded in text that looks all but incomprehensible.

It’s a testament to the quality of the Journal that Bradford Torrey and Francis Allen were willing to decipher all two million words of it, then edit it for publication in the 1906 edition.

Today a team of editors at Princeton are revisiting the Journal for an annotated scholarly edition that has already taken longer to produce than the 24 years Thoreau spent writing it in the first place. Volume 1 appeared in 1981, Volume 8 is the most recent, and there is still a long way to go. 

Posted by geoff on 10/28 at 01:02 PM
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Categories: BooksNatureThoreau

A Natural Curiosity - Geoff Wisner's Blog
Sunday, April 20, 2014

Non-Advice for Writers from Jeffrey Ford

imageJeffrey Ford, one of our best writers, recently posted this on Facebook. My wife, wisely recognizing it should not be lost, copied it and passed it along to me.

Recently a student at a writing program I’d visited wrote to me to ask for any advice I might have for his class about being a fiction writer. I told him I couldn’t offer advice. It’s not that I doubt good advice can be given, but I’m just suspicious as to whether it can be given by me. Instead I offered a list of things I, personally, believe to be true for myself (at the moment) and told them the more important question is what do they believe in for themselves. Here’s my list.

  1. You gotta love your work.
  2. Revision is the key.
  3. Master the skill of daydreaming and from time to time analyze its processes.
  4. Be a practiced observer.
  5. Take time to talk to friendly strangers.
  6. Only by forgetting about the money have I made money.
  7. Listen to children and animals.
  8. Speak your mind. Let the inmost become the outmost.
  9. Enjoy your freakin life.
  10. Be kind to other travelers you might meet on the path.
  11. Enjoy your colleagues’ successes.
  12. One must retain a zest for the battle.
  13. You will never learn more from a teacher or a workshop than you will from the act of writing.
  14. Swim through libraries.
  15. Family and friendships trump the importance of writing.
  16. Irony is the engine of the world.
  17. Vital fiction is not the result of hiding but an act of revelation.
  18. Be skeptical of advice.
  19. Always try to work with great editors.
  20. Never run with the pack as there is always a point where you will be left behind. Strike out on your own. Let your intuition be your guide.

Posted by geoff on 04/20 at 12:08 PM
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A Natural Curiosity - Geoff Wisner's Blog
Thursday, January 30, 2014

“African Lives” on!

I’m delighted to report that my anthology African Lives has been reviewed at by Todd Steven Burroughs, who also blogs about popular culture at

Burroughs writes,

The anthology is heavy with writers recalling their empowerment through writing. “I had always told stories,” declared Laila Lalami, a Moroccan journalist and novelist, “but now I wanted to be heard.” Wisner ensures that the continent’s multi-hyphenated rainbow of nonfiction writing, old and new, at all edges of the continental compass, gets that chance.

Posted by geoff on 01/30 at 03:45 PM
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Categories: AfricaBooksRace

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