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Lincoln’s Patent


William Herndon spent part of 1848 watching bemusedly as his law partner, Abraham Lincoln, sat at his office desk intently whittling a strange-looking wooden ship.  Looking up from time to time, Lincoln would excitedly explain how his invention would bring about a revolution in the burgeoning steamboat industry.  Lincoln’s design, which became U.S. Patent No. 6469, details the invention of an inflatable bellows system meant to improve the navigation of boats in shallow waters.  In effect, four balloons would be collapsed, accordion-like, and attached to both sides of a riverboat on either end.  If the boat found its way obstructed by a sandbar, the balloons would be filled with air in order to raise the hull higher than the bar, allowing passage without having to unload the cargo and carry the boat manually.  This issue was particularly important to the inventor, who had spent part of his youth on the treacherous Sangamon River and had twice run aground on high shoals.  Lincoln’s patent was never implemented and was in fact lost for many years after a fire in the patent office.  Throughout his life Lincoln expressed a strong philosophical love for the patent system.  Lincoln’s model and his drawings are now on display in the Smithsonian. 




Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the prolific 18th century writer, will always be best known for his creation of the iconic character Sherlock Holmes.  This acclaimed character has been reimagined in literary works outside of Conan Doyle’s original canon as well through television and full feature films. There is no shortage of fame associated with the character of Sherlock Holmes and his indispensible sidekick Dr. John Watson. Despite this fame, most individuals that know the characters in the stories very seldom know the author or his unique style of story presentation. Conan Doyle may never be considered the best author with the most flawless literary elegance complete with the superfluous trimmings that one might see within a Dickens, Twain or Emerson saga. Despite this, his distinctive method will seek to stand as style unique to its own, as will the originality of the stories and characters. The original canon consists of only four full-length novels, however over fifty short stories provide a wide girth of background to the life and times of Holmes, as well as the literary edifice of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The first three Holmes novels clearly designate Conan Doyle’s style of writing across all of his other works, demonstrating his use of literary devices and styles. Although the substance, locale and villains may change, the technique remains consistent.

The first Sherlock Holmes novels, A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four and The Hound of the Baskervilles are three completely different novels from a plot viewpoint although clearly exhibit very distinctive stylistic similarities. One of Conan Doyle’s most apparent styles is the extensive use of adjectives to provide great detail for the reader. Within each of the novels, as different as they are, the reader can similarly expose themselves to the surroundings as they are portrayed, placing themselves in the milieu. Each of the novels is told in a linear style, from the first-person point of view of Holmes’ partner Dr. John Watson. Watson spares no detail as he recounts the tale, typically in a mysterious manner extracting every bit of foreshadowing that can be transferred to the reader. Each of the novels are told in the first person past tense of Watson, however it is told as if the intention of the message is to create suspense and anticipation. Watson divulges only those details that he is ready to, waiting for the “big reveal” later in the tale. Watson controls the story firmly by amassing great detail for the reader, seemingly placing them directly in the scene. For example, a descriptor from The Hound of the Baskervilles reads:

“The journey was a swift and pleasant one, and I spent it making the more intimate acquaintance of my two companions, and in playing with Dr. Mortimer’s spaniel. In a very few hours the brown earth had become ruddy, the brick had changed to granite, and red cows gazed in well-hedged fields where the lush grasses and more luxuriant vegetation spoke of a richer, if a damper, climate.” (Conan Doyle p53)

Conan Doyle’s use of metaphor, imagery and analogy frequently appear throughout all of his stories, thereby turning detail from a device that supports the story to one that the story solely relies upon.  

            The Sherlock Holmes novels, while each very different in content and story, do follow virtually the same patterns. Watson in his re-telling of a Holmes adventure describes the historical detail of the period by incorporating it into the story. Late 19th century London had experienced a massive population increase, a fact that contributed significantly to the culture. Poverty and overpopulation spawned slums and pockets of degenerate people and places. Conan Doyle included these facets into his writing, particularly in A Study in Scarlet where the main antagonist was a villainous lower class citizen.  Victorian culture, for better or worse, was portrayed within the Holmes stories making it very appealing to the reading classes. Conan Doyle undoubtedly included this detail purposely to increase the popularity of the books. Other authors of the time, such as Dickens, used the same method to subtlety describe the horrible conditions most people endured.   

            The use of mysterious settings and characterization is a key element in the Holmes stories. Characters are typically introduced in stages, as Watson peals back the layers of the story the characters are also portrayed in more depth. Conan Doyle also single handedly created a new genre of writing by developing the formula for the true detective story. With the basis of logic and extreme detail, Conan Doyle changed the mold for storytelling of the genre. Holmes’ famous attention to logic and observation, as described by Watson, brings a significant validity to the story. As example from The Sign of Four, Holmes demonstrates his science of deduction by describing to Watson that logic tells him he had visited the Post-Office that morning, but deduction told him that while there he sent a telegram. He describes his process:

“It is simplicity itself, so absurdly simple that an explanation is superfluous; and yet it may serve to define the limits of observation and of deduction. Observation tells me that you have a little reddish mould adhering to your instep. Just opposite the Wigmore Street Office they have taken up the pavement and thrown up some earth, which lies in such a way that it is difficult to avoid treading in it in entering. The earth is of this peculiar reddish tint, which is found as far as I know, nowhere else in the neighborhood. So much is the observation. The rest is deduction. I know you had not written a letter, since I sat opposite to you all morning. I see also in your open desk there that you have a sheet of stamps and a thick bundle of postcards. What could you go into the post-office for, then, but to send a wire? Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.”

One of the most common themes across all of Conan Doyle’s writings is his extreme attention to the detail of the story and the characters, particularly to the logic exhibited by Holmes.

            The general schema that Conan Doyle arms his stories with, no matter how different in locale or content, remains very typical. In that sprit Watson as the storyteller, conveys the tale and problem that Holmes must solve through his deductive arts. Other small problems are also introduced, seemingly to prove Holmes’ abilities on the small scale, ultimately making the big reveal that much bigger. Conan Doyle allows the reader to know enough to stay connected to the story, but the major details are always saved for the end when Holmes is allowed his epilogue. Watson retells the story for the reader as though he understands the reader will require as much information as possible, another writing style that Conan Doyle uses throughout the books. Watson is the explainer for the reader, informing them of the vital information they will need to stay close to the plot. This position is necessary to these fast paced, highly verbose and almost bloated blocks of text. Watson’s role as Holmes’ assistant also creates the role as the assistant to the reader with responsibilities of explanation and detail by both placating and engaging Holmes in further dialogue.  Within A Study in Scarlet, Holmes states he has already made up his mind on the case and knows all of the particulars. After a long explanation itemizing his reasons and observations Watson further probes Holmes. “That seems simple enough, but how about the other man’s height?” Holmes retorts describing the ‘simple’ calculations of heights and strides. Watson asks further clarification on his age, and his facial features, which Holmes naturally details in a manner as complete that it could only be a Holmes dialogue. Watson asks the questions that the reader is wondering, a tactic Conan Doyle employs throughout all of his Sherlock Holmes stories. His unique and thorough method of working his stories backwards, exposing all details and responding to the questions he might assume would be asked by the reader, contributes to his incredible writing prowess. At times, the reader might be left wondering if the character of Watson is actually the subconscious of Holmes, seemingly always bantering with himself about the logic behind his thoughts and eternally questioning his reasoning.

            Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a trendsetting author that exhibited a myriad of literary styles and modes, far too many to list within a simple report of his ability across three works. The tales of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson will be remembered by the individual plotlines, but moreover by the relationship between the characters and their individual abilities. The Sherlock Holmes universe is wrought with endless metaphors, descriptors, conflicts and foreshadowing; the perfect equation to maintain reader interest and redefine the detective novel genre. These facts have helped contribute to the continued success of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, even to the present day. One must assume this has occurred because of the writing style and pleasurable yet curious nature of the characters across all of the Holmes adventures. As Holmes would say, “there is nothing like first-hand evidence,” something that clearly exists from the success of the Holmes mysteries throughout the past century in writing style, literary device and the development of the crime/detective fiction genre. 


Oliver Cromwell- The King That Could Have Been

ImageOliver Cromwell…The King that could have been.

On this day in 1657 Cromwell refused to take up the crown of England when it was offered to him by Parliament. His decline should really be no surprise considering Cromwell’s cause between 1642 and 1651 was to overthrow the monarchy, When Cromwell summoned Parliament in 1656, he outwardly spoke against the need for a hereditary monarchy. One of the first acts of Parliament was to pass an act that would nullify Charles Stuart’s right to the crown. Cromwell also warned of potential “enemies within” that may seek to revert government to its former state and pending threats from Spain.

Despite Conservative members of Parliament continued to push for a constitutional settlement that would create a hereditary head of government, popular opinion at the time was in opposition. Cromwell was not entirely sure he should provide a successor for his role, perhaps pushing England to full Parliamentary power. However, in February 1657 he finally gave his approval to having the issue debated in the House of Commons. At the end of March, the members of Parliament presented Cromwell with what was called the Humble Petition, which contained Parliament’s proposals for the settlement.  Within the Petition, Parliament called for a hereditary monarchy, limited in power. It also called for Parliament to approve new taxes, and for a recreation of the House of Lords, which had been abolished alongside the monarchy, whose members would be nominated by the Lord Protector and his Council. Another important part of the petition offered Cromwell the crown and the title of King. He considered the proposal for several weeks, before turning it down. It would have been difficult for him to accept it, considering his military had been so anti-monarchy. In fact, he may have lost significant loyalties if he had crowned himself King with the same pomp that was typical with English Kings.

Where would the monarchy be if he had accepted? Would he have created a new dynasty that could have survived the ages as the current monarchy has? Or, would another revolution have resulted in a permanent removal of the monarchy in England?

The Giver: A Stylistic Literary Review of a Literary Work Lacking Style

ImageLois Lowry’s The Giver offers the reader an appealing style of writing that develops character perceptions and plot points in a seemingly individual style that leaves many details to interpretation. Although presented in a simplistic method, using common language and imagery, the book can offer a different experience depending on the complexity of the reader, through the subtle subtext and imagery. Lowry is successful in portraying the setting of the characters and much of the mundane personal backgrounds of life and law through her ability to superficially drop the reader into the story’s locale. Despite being straightforward in writing style, Lowry does reveal the more spiritual nature of the story, which requires a different level of interpretation from the reader. The mystic powers of the Giver and the forced ignorance of the population are a form of science fiction not typically experienced in many “dystopian” stories and are left to pure imagination. From language and terminology to the images and visions of color, the reader is also left at times to interpret the meaning beyond the text. Notwithstanding the well-written nature of the story, the reader is also left wondering about far too much as a result of Lowry’s writing style. Concepts such as story origins, character development and unrealistic human reaction distract from the story’s true message of individuality, freedom and the human soul; all aspects that somehow become the goal for a character that truly knows, and has no way of knowing anything about it.

The character of Jonas becomes the exception in a world that is colorless and emotionless. Lowry succeeds at describing how utterly dull and dreary life is, once we are permitted to understand the true nature of the world through the eyes of Jonas after he magically becomes the next “receiver.” Lowry’s writing style built up adequate suspense for the revelation of the truth of how society is a controlled and subject to a forced “sameness”, but fell flat on the explanation. The reader is well prepared to understand Jonas’ difficulties dealing with relationships after he is exposed to the memories of the Giver, however it was difficult to move beyond the inhumane nature that was exhibited by this society. Feeling alienated from friends and family can be a difficult experience, especially when there is a significant separation of reality and perception. However, the larger theme was the reality that this culture allowed horrible atrocities to happen to the people within the community, without any emotion or thought. Even under Fascism or the most corrupt forms of Communism there was a proletariat class that sought overthrow due to the social and economic pain inflicted on the population; a pain they were well aware of.  Even the most cruel and evil Gestapo would have felt something as they conducted the “business” of the Nazi regime. The unrealistic nature of the story was personally difficult to get beyond, especially regarding the robotic structure of the characters and their naiveté to the world around them. While the style of writing was clear and concise, the gaps in backstory and a lack of true representation of our human spirit resulted in the belief that the characters might truly be a humanoid species on another planet rather than a dystopian society on Earth.

Through the use of foreshadowing, euphemisms, imagery and open interpretation, Lowry brings the reader along a splendid journey in a world that would never be. Unlike other dystopian and hero journeys, such as Animal Farm or Fahrenheit 451, the reader does not easily draw comparisons to the “real” world. Despite this, most readers will find the writing style to contribute to the experience of the characters and improve the reader’s investment in the story. Most readers will probably be hypnotized by the spiritual and mysterious nature of the Giver and his power to withhold memories and emotions through his mere presence. As we all have the same powers as “The Giver” we will mostly relate to the pain and suffering he must hold. Readers will be surprised by the colorless world and be intrigued by the new power that Jonas is given and what he will ultimately do with it. The story is built up well, however at times feels very hollow. The story was devoid of a true explanation of “why” which drastically contributed to a reduction in appreciating the style of writing. This is especially true when compared to a story like Animal Farm, where the reader can easily draw conclusions to how those characters match up to the real world, both by its characters and thematically.

For a children’s dystopian tale, Lowry’s style of writing will be intriguing and virtually poetic in nature, flowing with imagery and surprise turns.  The dialogue will be foreign to most readers, which will force a sense of entertainment. Examples will include, “I liked the feeling of love, I wish we still had that. I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.” The response from his parents to his question about their love for him also will be an easy surprise to the average adolescent reader. They refer to love as a “meaningless” word that is “so meaningless that it’s become almost obsolete.” With concepts such as love, family, emotion and freedom s the most important themes in the book it greatly contributes to the readers perception of the story.

Although the underlying background themes, facts of law and the soul of the characters are NOT relatable, the contrast between this world and our world can be relatable to the adolescent reader. Many emotional concepts can be drawn from the story through the writing style that will make young readers refer to their own lives. “I am loved, but I don’t feel loved; I am free, but I don’t feel free; I see color, but everything feels so gray; I seem the same, but I am different. I have what I deserve, but I deserve more. I am with others, but I am lonely.” Lowry’s story will appeal to those readers that might agree with some or all of these statements and will find the character of Jonas very relevant in his isolation. The fact that the reader is left to interpret the ending and the meaning of certain concepts is a writing tactic that encourages the reader to think long after the last pages have been thumbed to a close. Lowry masterfully placates to the adolescent reader with these methods and with the creation of a hero character (and infant) worth routing for. We want them to survive and escape. We want good to win over evil. We want the truth to be told and for everyone to be freed from their captors. With Lowry’s The Giver, we don’t get the satisfaction we desire and are left to wonder the fate of every character we have supposedly come to consider companions. Much can be taken from the themes of the journey, the relationships that are portrayed or the method the plot is revealed. Lowry masterfully unwraps this world for the reader, like a panting folded ten times and now revealed to the world slowly.  The problematic reality for many readers will be the unwrapped image resembling that of an alien world rather than a tragic dystopian society within our own universe.

Old Mr. Melancholy- JFE Stuart’s Lackluster Landing 3/22/1708


James Francis Edward Stuart, a literal forgotten “would be”king to anyone except the more serious English historian or hobby historical reader. On this day in 1708, James landed at the Firth of Forth in Scotland to claim the throne of his father, the deposed James II. Thanks to Henry VIII’s requirement for a divorce, England had become anti-Catholic and would certainly not stand for another possible monarch following the religion. When James II had adequately annoyed the nobles with his religious based decisions steering in the Catholic direction, circumstances reached the boiling point. Enter the Glorious Revolution(1688) and the start of the co-rein of William III and Mary II (his daughter).

Fast forward 20 years and now the 20 year old Prince is off to claim his fathers old throne. His “fleet’ was intercepted by English patrols and his French support waned by their fear of beginning a sea battle with the powerful English navy. He never received much support, mostly due to his inability to be a credible ruler to the people. He was awkward, whiney and always so miserable. He probably wanted to be King more than anything in the world, but knew he had no possible chance of accomplishing it. As a result, he virtually relied on the generosity of the papal court where he would ultimately die at 77. He lived a life of splendor and although lived like a king, he was hardly satisfied.

Don’t worry, 1745 will bring another attempt by his son “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” the next pretender to the throne. On a final note, the current Jacobite (Stuart) pretender to the throne is Franz, Duke of Bavaria, or Francis II if he were to be king.

Check out other Pretenders to the past and current monarchies of the world.

March 22, Stamp Act of 1765: Our Vehicle of Rebellion

Parliament_Stamp_Act1765Sugar and stamps; two items in our world that we don’t really give much of a thought. This was not the case in the late 18th century, this much is for certain. Our colonial ancestors used the imposed taxes on these items, and others, as a means to fuel the ultimate rebellion.

In today’s world, we are more or less accustomed to taxes going up. Despite our grumbling, we aren’t banding together into scantly armed militia groups and preparing a coup d’etat. In their view, England really didn’t have much of a choice at the time but neither did the colonists. George III needed to raise money to pay off war debts from their consistent desire to expand the empire. They also needed to pay to defend their new territories won from France during the Seven Years War. They couldn’t tax their English subjects, this had been attempted and resulted in uprising. George III wanted to tame his subjects abroad and he certainly never would have expected the outcome that was to be revealed only a few years later.

So, England decides to pass the Stamp Act on March 22,  1765.  The act imposed a direct tax on all materials printed for commercial and legal use. This included the obvious printed materials like newspapers and pamphlets, but also included novelty items such as dice.

The Quartering Act and Sugar Act, along with the Stamp Act had much to do with the fuel for rebellious propaganda and ultimate reaction by groups such as the Sons of Liberty.

The Commonwealth of Nations still expands far and wide in the 21st century, including over 50 independent nations. Although the current monarchy is virtually politically powerless, the formal head of state is Queen Elizabeth II nonetheless. History could have been different for America had George III been a tad more reserved and a lot less stubborn. He looked upon America as a prize that he specifically deserved to win and keep. If things had been different, we would be saying something a lot different each morning in homeroom and CNN would be broadcasting the Speech from the Throne given by Elizabeth II and written by Prime Minister Obama and other ministers of the crown.

Would we have been better off? What do you think?

Henry V Assension-1413


Upon the death of his father(you guessed it Henry IV) Henry Part 5 begins. Unlike Rocky 5, this story actually is better than its predecessors. (Although, at least Rocky wins in a wicked street fight in the end. I suppose Agincourt was just one really harsh street fight. Anyway, I digress.)
Henry almost conquered France, a royal claim held by English kings from Edward III to George III ( over 350 years). His military campaigns will be considered some of the most successful in English history. With the Treaty of Troyes came the agreement from Charles VI of France (a very emotionally disturbed person) that Henry was the heir to his throne and not his son Charles. Henry also would marry Charles’ daughter Catherine of Valois. Unfortunetly, Henry V died 2 months before Charles at only 38. Henry VI (creative naming huh?) was only a child when his father died. The ensuing events wouldgive France time to push the English back and crown Charles VII ( more creative naming schemes).
What if Henry V had lived to old age?
Would French Revolution have happened sooner or would it be said…
Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland, FRANCE and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith.