Marcus French Licks His Algebra Anxiety

pathex news showing picturesMarcus is back, with more letters to his big sister Eleanor this week.  Most days were school days, not holidays….  Buried in some of the bulletins from Amsterdam, New York (aka his “Pathe newsreels”), were hints that things were not going well for Marcus in algebra.

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A page of equations from an algebra text in use during the 1920s.

The first sign is in his letter of November 22, 1925, when he was eleven.  Before any other news, the pet stories.  His dog Jock had started raiding trashcans for food, while Dixie the cat disgraced himself by leaping on the dining room table to steal a piece of rabbit off a plate.  After an anecdote about the Sunday school teacher, Marcus announces, “I’m getting on in school pretty good here’s my marks.”  He received a gentleman’s C in English, writing, arithmetic, junior business training, printing, and textiles (whatever that class was).   No absences, no tardies, but not exactly a stellar academic performance.  The symbol scrawled down for his grades in spelling, history, science, and music is undecipherable and for that reason, highly suspicious.

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Nothing much about algebra until January 9th, 1927.   It was a pretty good day, all things considered.  Dixie had been given a dose of catnip after he was caught eating the house plants.  “For an hour and a half,” reports Marcus delightedly, “he was an insane cat.”   catnip-banned-uk

Another hot newsworthy item was that Father had brought home three new films–two two-reelers “Castor Oil” and “Big Business” starring Our Gang and a one-reeler “Suds” featuring Stan Laurel. Marcus was now the proud possessor of ten reels of film.

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Then he drops the bombshell: “Miss Bartley is giving me 3 extra hours every week in algebra.  No more news.”

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By the 30th of January, the increased homework was paying dividends.   After telling Eleanor that Dixie had discovered the catnip’s hiding place in the pantry and sat in front of the cupboard yowling until given a dose, Marcus crowed, “I passed another algebra test 85%.”

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Things had really improved by March.  There was a long account of Jock’s returning home covered in blood with a crushed paw (he had probably gotten run over again) before Marcus gleefully announced, “I passed an Algebra test!!” (That made three for the academic year.) an algebra test!

On the next page, he drew himself fainting when Miss Bartley handed back another exam marked 85% with the encouraging words, “Good work.”  What is going on in the paper he drew in the upper right hand corner???  It looks as if he got all five questions right…

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We may never know the answer to that question, because the ice floes rushing down the creek behind the barn was a lot more interesting, when it came right down to it.

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“Nothing Except A Battle Lost Can Be Half so Melancholy as a Battle Won:” Glimpses of Disabled Veterans

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James Gillray, “The Plumb Pudding in Danger” (1805). The British Prime Minister William Pitt the younger and Napoleon carve up the world, represented as an enormous plum pudding, between them.

During the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the picture book came into its own in England, a period of extraordinary fertility in children’s book publishing dubbed “the dawn of levity” by F. J. Harvey Darton, even though it coincided with the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).   The protracted war with the French cast its shadow over English children’s books nevertheless, although detecting its   presence can be as subtle an exercise as in Jane Austen’s novels.

Of course there were overtly militaristic children’s books such as the school book New Geographical Grammar (1811), in which its author John Evans described preparations supposedly being made in French port towns for the invasion of England. Stirring accounts of martial valor designed to instill the seeds of patriotism and to inspire the desire for military service could be found in The Naval Heroes of Great Britain: or, Accounts of the Lives and Actions of the Distinguished Admirals and Commanders who have Contributed to Confer on Great Britain the Empire of the Ocean (1806).

But there are other books published then which bear out the truth of the Duke of Wellington’s sorrowful observation that the only thing as sad as a battle lost is a battle won.  I can’t remember when I began to notice pictures of disabled veterans  in Regency children’s books, but I only started to jot down all the references.  They drive home the realization that the sight of an old soldier with a cork or wooden leg must have been in England must have been a common one after Waterloo.  Only  an high-born officer like Henry Paget, second earl of Uxbridge could afford a sophisticated prosthetic device to replace a limb shattered on the battlefield.

Some disabled veterans scraped together a living performing on the streets of London.   Billy Waters, an American-born freed slave, who fought in the British forces during the American War of Independence, became something of a local celebrity.  This is one of three pictures of Billy Waters I have found in Cotsen–the other two are in The Cries of London Drawn from Life (1823) and a book of London cries lacking a title page published ca.1821 by J. Bysh.

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Hodgson’s The Cries of London (London: Hodgson & Co., ca. 1824).

Pictures of amputees may be more common in children’s books issued by the Quaker firm of the Dartons and they may be an indication of  pacifist tendencies.  This one from My Real Friend is unusual for showing quite graphically the daily accidental humiliations to which an amputee had to endure.  The passage the picture accompanies follows.

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The title vignette for My Real Friend: or Incidents in Life, Founded on Truth. 2nd ed. corrected (London: W. Darton, 1812). The old soldier’s peg leg has gotten caught in the style.

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Perhaps the most unusual sighting of a disabled veteran I’ve found so far is the frontispiece by R. Stennett for Parlour Amusements; or A New Book of Games and Forfeits (ca. 1820).  It shows a group of children playing the game of “Old Soldier” which is described inside.   One person is supposed to impersonate the impoverished veteran and notice how the boy has improvised a wooden leg from a pair of bellows.   The verse rules are followed with a model dialog between jmaginary players to show how the process of questions and answers ought to play out.  4907frontis

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The game of “Old Soldier,” which also goes by the name of “Here Comes an Old Soldier from Botany Bay,” was played for almost a century in the English-speaking world.  Halliwell-Phillipps included it in Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales (1849) under the title “The Poor Soldier.”   The second edition of Cassell’s Book of In-door Amusements, Card Games, and Fireside Fun described it as old in 1882, but didn’t speculate as to its probable age.  The 1901 volume of the Pennsylvania School Journal recommended “The Game of the Poor, Old Soldier” as an amusing one for small children in 1901, as did Grace Lee Davidson’s 1916 Games and Parties for Children.

This appearance in Parlour Amusements seems to be the earliest recorded and perhaps it is a relic of the Napoleonic Wars. The larger question is to consider what exactly such a game tells us about attitudes towards the disabled veteran during the nineteenth century. Here he seems to be treated simply as a character type that offers a good opportunity for dress up, rather than as a brave soul whose broken body  deserves respect as a symbol of patriotic service to his country.   Whatever its  meaning, the frontispiece of Parlour Amusements, along with the other illustrations shown here, offers a surprising glimpse into the impact of war on civilians.