However, about the time I started reading histories and biographies in some degree of earnest, I decided that I ought to incorporate at least some works on America's past. So I read David McCullough's John Adams, and discovered that the founding of the United States was actually interesting. The men had voices and personalities; through the writing of an another like McCullough, you can see the world of the times unfolding - and the writers of The Landmark History got it wrong: there was color. It was quite the breakthrough for me, I assure you.
So after a short jaunt to the Roman Republic in April, I've picked up Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton and returned to the United States in its early years. One thing I especially love about these books, and the time period in general, is the insults that men hurled at each other. (I know I'm supposed to be appalled, but I'm more inclined to wonder why on earth such wit ever went out of style.) Reading the invectives used by Hamilton when he was just getting his start in the States - one man's writing was "puerile and fallacious" - and the fact that just the other day I opened a Twitter account gave me the amusing thought, Whatever would the Founding Fathers have done with social media? I can't help but feel it would have curbed their wit; I'm not sure Hamilton could ever have managed to fit any of his thoughts into 140 characters. One can imagine the butchery of the English language that would have inevitably resulted -
@TJefferson - Sir, ur grasp of ecnmc thry is abysml. I hmbly submit to u that u r an idiot. #washingtonscabinet #federalbank
@JAdams - Yes, I sabotged the elect'n. Get ovr it. #election #chump
@GWashington - Receivd notes @ 11 pm. Emailing 65 pg treatise 2 u now. Dont think adqutly addressd pt 22 on pg 59. What u thnk? #sleep?
@JMadison @JJay - I allude to the fishries. #federalistpapers #random
@Seabury - Such is my opnion of ur ablties as a critic, that i vry much prfr ur disapprbtion 2 ur applause. #awestchesteridiot
(Real quote from Alexander Hamilton, if you un-butcher the English.)
The beauty of Hamilton's wit is lacking, as you can see. And amusing as it is, the humor comes in a bitter way - for, judging from the popularity of Twitter, people nowadays don't struggle at all with reining in their thoughts to 140 characters. There is no wit to be lost. I can't say I want us to go back to speaking in quite the same flowery language that the men of the 18th and 19th Centuries used; sometimes it's hard to sort out the fellow's meaning from his blathering. There is, however, one thing that ought to be preserved, and that is the beauty of thought and its expression. We are, after all, writers, and that should make both things doubly dear to us.
"There's a moral somewhere in that, if you like morals."
- the eagle of the ninth, rosemary sutcliff