Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Americans in Paris and the dip pen

I am learning so much from The Greater Journey. Samuel Morse, he of the telegraph and Morse Code, was an accomplished artist. One of his most famous works, The Gallery of the Louvre, is a representation of some 40 masterpieces in that museum gathered in one "exhibit". Mona Lisa is there along with works by Titian, Caravaggio,  and Rubens. Currently, this large work is on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. through July 8, 2012.

Also learned that medical students in America knew almost nothing of women's anatomy or disease. Too prudish. In Paris, though, the women were not so shy and did not object to being examined by a male physician.

And although I have never read any of the adventure stories of James Fenimore Cooper (The Last of the Mohicans, The Deerslayer, etc.) it turns out he was quite a sensation both in America and in Europe. It also happens that he wrote Notions of the Americans:Picked Up By a Traveling Bachelor a non-fiction look at Americans and written for the Europeans. It might be fun to read. My library doesn't have a copy, but it does own a book of Cooper's journals and letters.

That is another delightful bit about the book: McCullough quotes from letters and journals of the artists, physicians, and writers. The writing then was so extraordinary. Not at all florid or pompous, just accurate accounts of the day or event. The language is quite lovely. Each took time to write to family and friends back home even though it might be months before a response was received. So unlike today when we can dash off a text and get a response - most likely with abbreviations and misspellings - in seconds.

And to think that these letters and journal entries were written with a dip pen. Scratch, dip, scribble, dip. If you have ever written with such an old-fashioned writing instrument, and I happen to have quite a collection of them, you will know how much more thoughtful your words become. You actually have time to breathe as you slowly write. Your whole way of thinking changes a bit. And just imagine the books and letters and essays written this way. It's a wonder anything ever got put down on paper at all.

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