THE BOOKS: Bis! Encore! Second Page!
Why, yes, there is more. (When thou hast done, thou hast not Donne....)
Bapton Books History Selections:
Benevolent Designs: The Countess and the General: George Washington, Selina Countess of Huntingdon, their correspondence, and the evangelizing of America
In 2012, Mr Pyle was lecturing in Darien, Connecticut ... just in time for Hurricane Sandy.
This may be one of the few good things to have come out of that storm; for during his enforced stay with Very Patient Hosts, and desperate for something to read, he ran across a monograph on the correspondence between the early Methodist patroness, Lady Huntingdon, and her cousin, George Washington.
Lady Selina Shirley was the daughter of Washington Shirley, second earl Ferrers; she married Theophilus Hastings, ninth earl of Huntingdon. As Selina, countess of Huntingdon, she became the patroness of the evangelicals in – and out – of the Church of England, including the early Methodists in England, Wales, and America alike.
And she had a distant cousin in America: George Washington, to whom she decided to write about her plans for a mission to the Native Americans and the settling of her congregants on the frontier.
In the midst of revolution, war, peace treaties, reprisals, and the birth of a new nation, the Countess and the General shared first a correspondent, in Phillis Wheatley, America’s first Black author and poet; then, a correspondence; and eventually, a friendship and something of a vision. The Countess entrusted to her distant cousin the General her hopes of maintaining charities in the former colonies, settling the back-country with pious families, and evangelizing the Native Americans. The General came to endow what became Washington College – now Washington & Lee University – where one of America’s first Black clergymen was educated, and to move towards abolitionism. Their lives and correspondence, and their actions, touched at various points those of John Wesley and George Whitefield; Phillis Wheatley; Olaudah Equiano the Black British writer whose voice powerfully indicted slavery; the Reverend Samson Occom, the Mohegan evangelist; and Granville Sharp, the pro-American British civil servant who midwifed abolitionism and helped create Sierra Leone. In the end, they helped to create the forces that evangelized the American frontier, put down slavery, gave the United States its standing sense of a special moral mission in the world, and made the Nonconformist Conscience a permanent factor in British politics.
‘... a well thought-out, illuminating piece of history covering topics that are often sadly neglected. Pyle writes with integrity, authority, and an appealing energy (despite the occasional detour). But perhaps the most revealing aspect of the book is the long passages quoted from the letters of George Washington – both to the Countess and to other correspondents. Washington is not the best prose stylist among the Presidents; Lincoln was far more eloquent and TR was far more prolific. But Washington here exhibits both his own ingrained nobility and an admirable blunt directness. Pyle wisely steps back and lets the General speak, and the book is better for it.’
– from American novelist Curtis D. Edmonds’ five-star review at Amazon US
When That Great Ship Went Down: the legal and political repercussions of the loss of RMS Titanic
This is the celebrated centenary history of the British and American loss enquiries into the sinking of Titanic in 1912: the event which in so many ways made the modern world, even before the Great War.
It is the story of two upright judges: Lord Mersey and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jnr: and the limits of justice when politics intervenes; a story of regulatory capture, crony capitalism, and political corruption. The story of how the Irish Home Rule Bill and the inside trading of Government ministers in Marconi shares, in Britain, and how Progressive political narratives and the 1912 Presidential election in the US, were allowed to warp due process and deny justice to the living and the dead alike. Yet it is also the story of how truth will out; and, above all, the story of a great liner which yet sails on as the Flying Dutchman of law and policy.
Praised by the Sunday Telegraph’s Paris contributing correspondent, Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, as a ‘sharply and eruditely-drawn account of the Titanic Inquiries on either side of the Atlantic … their vivid reconstruction and analysis enable us to draw plenty of damning parallels. This is a parliamentary procedural as well as the re-creation of a vanished pre-War world; its political and intellectual processes as well as a sociology ranging from Trollope to Joyce. This is far more than another clever “Titanic” book’, and by James Delingpole, then of the Telegraph and now of Breitbart London, as a ‘cool reassessment of the US and British Titanic enquiries’, this is – as one of its characters, a young Cabinet minister named Winston Churchill, should have said – ‘history in the grand manner’ after his own heart.
Also available through Amazon / Audible as an audiobook narrated, superbly, by the mellifluous Stan Jenson.
‘Interesting view of how other issues clouded the two main inquiries into the Titanic sinking. Very fair to those on the ship as well as the Carpathia. Politics seems to touch the weirdest places...’
– from a four-star review on Amazon US.
’37: the year of portent
It was the year of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, the destruction of Guernica from the air, the New London School Explosion, and the Hindenburg disaster; of Alban Berg’s Lulu and MC Escher’s first ‘impossible’ print, the Panay Incident and Howard Hughes’ newest airspeed record. Spain bled, and Hitler outlined his plans for Lebensraum: the Hoßbach Memorandum.
The duke of Windsor married Mrs Simpson; the coronation went ahead, with a different King. Neville Chamberlain replaced Stanley Baldwin in Number Ten. Buchenwald opened; Bohr and Teller pondered the atom, Hayek and Coase, the economy, and Wittgenstein, the language being used so superbly by Eliot and Auden.
Disney premièred Snow White; an Oxford philologist derived the word ‘hobbit’. The Mississippi River flooded and the Golden Gate Bridge opened to traffic; and the Japanese, in China, began what became the Second World War, and perpetrated the Rape of Nanking.
In this sweeping history of a portentous year, Markham Shaw Pyle and GMW Wemyss once more range from intellectual history to the fields of battle, from flooded farms to the halls of Congress and the Palace of Westminster, illuminating great and little alike. This is at once history in the grand manner, and history from the ground up: from nuts and bolts and poets’ insights, to secret diplomacy, the mysteries of physics, the warfare in the human heart, and moments of high tragedy and unconquered hope.
“Fools, Drunks, and the United States”: August 12, 1941
This is the story of America on August 12, 1941, four months before Pearl Harbor.
Isolationism was still strong, FDR was hammering out the Atlantic Charter with Churchill (to the fury of America Firsters), the Japanese were ready to kick off a war, most Americans were more interested in baseball and radio shows than in a distant conflict, and Congress decided to keep the draft – by one vote.
Markham Shaw Pyle’s snapshot of America on a day more fateful than any then knew is the counterpart to GMW Wemyss’ The Confidence of the House: May 1940, also available from Bapton Books. It is the story of farmers and big-league ballplayers, spies, editors, whores, Congressmen, housewives, and disgruntled draftees; of events in Europe, massacres in China, and Japanese war plans; and of ‘Mister Sam’, House Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas, trying to get the draft extension through, come Hell or high water.
From border radio stations to Ebbets Field, from Congress to cruisers at sea; from Maine to Texas, Hatteras to the Golden Gate and far Hawaii, this is the rough music of America’s serenade by destiny.
‘Every day makes some history, but some days contribute more than others. This work focuses on what was, in many respects, an average day in the summer of 1941 – baseball games, radio programs, and an eventful vote in the House of Representatives that would prove later to be fateful indeed.
‘The author is primarily concerned with illuminating the characters in their historical context – and what characters they were, especially in comparison to the blow-dried common lot of today’s Congressional leadership. Pyle does a commendable job in not only understanding and interpreting the long-lost culture of the early Forties but in encapsulating the personalities of the time into brief, majestic passages. … A learned and erudite cocktail party, to be sure, but the aimless, meandering path the story takes can be frustrating. … I happily recommend this work to all. Its limitations are apparent but honorable, and the signature MSP style is evident on every page.’
– from Curtis D. Edmonds’ four-star review at Amazon US.
The Confidence of the House: May 1940
This is the story of two days of debate in the House of Commons in May 1940, and what came after in consequence. It is the story of Mr Speaker. It is the story, also, of the Chief Whip, attempting to discharge his duty as the stars in their courses fought against him. It is the story as well of the Government Front Bench, of the Prime Minister and the First Lord, Winston Churchill; and of the backbenchers, wise and foolish, of all parties and of none, who defended or rebelled against the Government or sought to bring it down in Opposition.
Yet it remains above all the story of the House of Commons. It is the story of how, in a time of apparent terrible efficiency in the dictatorships of Europe, the muddled procedures and privileges of the House vindicated themselves, and of how, even in grave peril, no Government can carry on save with The Confidence of the House.
GMW Wemyss, co-author of the acclaimed centenary history of the Titanic enquiries in Britain and America, here reissues his classic account of the fall of the Chamberlain government and the ascension of Churchill. Attlee, Admiral Keyes, Sir Archie Sinclair, Macmillan, Amery, and Duff Cooper all play their brave parts in Parliament’s great drama, on the eve of Hitler’s invasion of France: this is history in the grand manner, after Churchill’s own heart.