May 10, 2013

The Land of Beginning Again

by Louisa Fletcher

I wish that there were some wonderful place
In the Land of Beginning Again.
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
and never put on again.
I wish we could come on it all unaware,
Like the hunter who finds a lost trail;
And I wish that the one whom our blindness had done
The greatest injustice of all
Could be there at the gates
like an old friend that waits
For the comrade he's gladdest to hail.
We would find all the things we intended to do
But forgot, and remembered too late,
Little praises unspoken, little promises broken,
And all the thousand and one
Little duties neglected that might have perfected
The day for one less fortunate.
It wouldn't be possible not to be kind
In the Land of Beginning Again,
And the ones we misjudged
and the ones whom we grudged
their moments of victory here,
Would find in the grasp of our loving hand-clasp
More than penitent lips could explain...
So I wish that there were some wonderful place
Called the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches,
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again.

"The Land of Beginning Again" by Louisa Fletcher, from The Land of Beginning Again. © Nabu Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of musician and composer "Mother" Maybelle Carter, born in Copper Creek, Virginia (1909). When she was 18, she, Sara and A.P. Carter cut an audition record at a temporary studio in Bristol, Tennessee, for Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company. Also recording that day, Jimmie Rodgers, "The Singing Brakeman." Peer's recordings are known as the Bristol Sessions — considered the official beginning of country music in the United States. Through the years, the Carters recorded many traditional songs, including "Wabash Cannonball," "Wildwood Flower," and "Will the Circle be Unbroken."

It's the birthday of dancer/actor Fred Astaire, born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska (1899). Astaire and his sister, Adele, began dancing when she was six and he was four, making their professional debut in a brother-sister vaudeville act. The pair went on to star in a string of hit musicals on the Broadway and London stage, appearing in 11 shows before Adele married Lord Charles Cavendish in 1932, leaving Fred on his own. He went to Hollywood for a screen test, where a Paramount executive wrote about Astaire's performance: "Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."

It was on this day in 1749 that the 10th and final volume of Henry Fielding's (books by this author) novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling was published. The novel form was still very new in English — other fiction writers presented their work as if it were factual, or as a moral allegory, whereas Fielding just wanted to write a good story. He said, "I shall not look on myself as accountable to any court of critical jurisdiction whatever; for as I am, in reality, the founder of a new province of writing, so I am at liberty to make what laws I please therein."

Tom Jones tells the story of Tom, who is dropped on the doorstep of Squire Allworthy as a newborn, and raised by the squire as his son. He is a kind and generous young man who loves women and gets into all sorts of sexual adventures, which caused many 18th-century novelists and critics to condemn Tom Jones as immoral. Tom falls for the neighboring squire's daughter, Sophia, but neither Sophia's father nor his own adopted father will sanction their marriage since Tom is illegitimate. Tom gets a little too friendly with some of the local girls and gets kicked out of his household, so he moves to London. Sophia wants to marry Tom but is set to marry Squire Allworthy's nephew. So she runs off and follows Tom to London.

In Tom Jones, Fielding wrote: "To paint the looks or thoughts of either of these lovers, is beyond my power. As their sensations, from their mutual silence, may be judged to have been too big for their own utterance, it cannot be supposed that I should be able to express them: and the misfortune is, that few of my readers have been enough in love to feel by their own hearts what past at this time in theirs.

"After a short pause, Jones, with faultering accents, said — 'I see, madam, you are surprized.' — 'Surprized!' answered she; 'Oh heavens! Indeed, I am surprized. I almost doubt whether you are the person you seem.' — 'Indeed,' cries he, 'my Sophia, pardon me, madam, for this once calling you so, I am that very wretched Jones, whom fortune, after so many disappointments, hath, at last, kindly conducted to you. Oh! my Sophia, did you know the thousand torments I have suffered in this long, fruitless pursuit.' — 'Pursuit of whom?' said Sophia, a little recollecting herself, and assuming a reserved air. [...] 'O my Sophia! my only love! you cannot hate or despise me more for what happened there than I do myself; but yet do me the justice to think that my heart was never unfaithful to you. That had no share in the folly I was guilty of; it was even then unalterably yours. Though I despaired of possessing you, nay, almost of ever seeing you more, I doated still on your charming idea, and could seriously love no other woman. But if my heart had not been engaged, she, into whose company I accidentally fell at that cursed place, was not an object of serious love. Believe me, my angel, I never have seen her from that day to this; and never intend or desire to see her again.' Sophia, in her heart, was very glad to hear this; but forcing into her face an air of more coldness than she had yet assumed, 'Why,' said she, 'Mr Jones, do you take the trouble to make a defence where you are not accused? If I thought it worth while to accuse you, I have a charge of unpardonable nature indeed.'' — 'What is it, for heaven's sake?' answered Jones, trembling and pale, expecting to hear of his amour with Lady Bellaston. 'Oh,' said she, 'how is it possible! can everything noble and everything base be lodged together in the same bosom?'"

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