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Sunday, April 23, 2023

Nevermore? The Refrain From Nob Hill, Beacon Hill, And Rittenhouse Square Was ‘Evermore’

Who can forget the words of Edgar Allen Poe in ‘The Raven’?

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!

By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—

Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,

It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—

Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”

Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Nevermore: The Edgar Allan Poe Collection of Susan Jaffe Tane - Exhibition  > The Raven

Humphrey Bigelow had last heard them years ago when Mr. Barkley, the Latin teacher and organist at St. Owens, recited them with tears in his eyes.  A lament he said, for all those of us who are alone and whose souls are indeed laden with sorrow.  Neither Humphrey nor any of his classmates shared Mr. Barkley’s plea for male comfort – a plea, all the boys in the sixth form well knew, that was meant for them.

No, he and his classmates from the Hamptons and Russian and Nob Hills were certain that neither the words of Poe nor the transparent desires of Mr. Barkley were to be taken seriously. They were the chosen, those for whom ‘evermore’ was the byword, the meme by which they would all live.

Take Addison Parker, for example, scion of the Lexington Parkers, heir to a shipping fortune founded on the Three Cornered Trade, whaling, slaves, rum, and miscellaneous cargo bound for ports from Boston to Port Jefferson.  There was never a trace of gloom, pessimism, deep thought, or regret in the handsome Addie Parker who went on to take the family seat on the NYSE and made millions for Makers, Peabody, and Light investment bankers.

Life was good for him and everyone around him, and those on the margins were fortunate indeed to have the likes of him and his colleagues to look out for their interests.

When Enslaved People Commandeered a Ship and Hightailed it to Freedom in  the Bahamas | Smart News| Smithsonian Magazine

For this crowd, a generation more like that of the Roaring Twenties than the early years of this century, Utopia – if such a thing ever existed – existed here and now, right here on Fifth Avenue, Rittenhouse Square, and in the oaky bars of the Cosmos Club and the Society of the Cincinnati.  What was this social revolution, they asked over drinks in the Remington Room of the Mayflower?  This gender thing, this black thing, this women’s thing? 

Although the drawbridges had not been pulled up and the moats and castles secured, they all were happy to live within the enclaves of their parents, their grandparents, and ancestors.  Francis de Glastonbury’s father, a descendant of the Duke of Middleborough who had sent Mungo Park on his expedition to determine the flow of the Niger, had been the prince of one of England’s most notable and noteworthy families, a legatee of nobility and noblesse descended from one of Arthur’s knights.

 “When will they learn?”, Francis said, recalling Quintus, the aide de camp of Maximus Decimus Meridius, General of the Roman Armies of the North, final conqueror of the Huns, who said when faced with the last charge of the barbarians, “People should know when they are conquered”.

Stoicism in a time of pandemic: how Marcus Aurelius can help | Classics |  The Guardian

Conquered indeed.  For decades since the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Davenport settlements in New Haven; or since the plantations of the English Cavaliers in Virginia and North Carolina, the forebears of Francis de Glastonbury had carried with them the best of England and Western civilization since the Greeks.  This dismissiveness, this facile debunking of the Henrys and the Richards, this patent democratic idolatry was simply out of order.

Humphrey Bigelow had listened to such anti-historical, anti-intellectual screeds for years.  The incarnation of the African as a civil Hercules, a savior, unique among God’s creations with insight, compassion, dignity, and intelligence was particularly  nettling.  He had read accounts of both Mungo Park and his African adventurer successors and had found only tribalism, tribal warfare, slavery, and brutality.  

It didn’t take Josef Conrad to write The Heart of Darkness to convince him of ‘the horror, the horror’. He like most regretted slavery, the involuntary servitude of the weak, the conquered, and the unfortunate; but incorporated it completely within a worldview that had no victors nor took no prisoners.

The women in his historical past – queens, princesses, and consorts of royalty and aristocracy – were no shrinking violets.  They were Shakespeare’s Goneril, Regan, Lady Macbeth, Dionyza, Volumnia, and Tamora, women who were as savvy, calculating, opportunistic, determined, and powerful as their men.  

Goneril - Wikipedia

The intersex thing, the sexual transversal made no sense at all.  History – and not only his family’s – was a tale of powerful men and women who accepted birth, human nature, and genetics as givens.  Life, so short and brutal as it might be, is a drama of men and women and those caught in between are supernumerary at best.

There were enough of Humphrey’s friends, acquaintances, and colleagues from the old crowd who defected – became social progressives who demanded apologies and reparations from their own families.  How could the de Glastonburys live with their sins, their colonialism, their slavery, and their human trafficking? Did they have no shame? 

Bob Cabot of the Cabots took a Type 5 DNA test to determine who among his progenitors were slaveowners; and more importantly which of them had produced children from their slave mistresses.  Of course in the rout of American history, there was a slaveowner or slave trader under every antimacassar, so it was not surprising that his great grandfather had a hand in the New Bedford bit of the profitable  three corner trade.  Hiram Cabot Jennings, however, had kept his own social counsel and had no sex with underlings regardless of race, so much to his dismay Bob had no black genes.  So be it.  He had long cast off aristocratic WASP moorings. 

“What on earth is he up to?”, asked Aunt Henrietta when she heard of Cousin Bob’s doings.  “Has he forgotten where he comes from?”; and indeed Bob had not and after years trailing after progressive reformers, he returned to the fold, his period of apostasy over and done with.

“Welcome back”, said Aunt Henrietta. “Have a piece of Cousin Danuda’s lovely mince pie”.

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