Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic
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It's difficult to tell at this remove -- 270 years! -- but it seems Henry Fielding might very well have been a BBA. Then again, he might just be a sarcastic son of a bitch!
Or he may have been both.
Most of my updates heretofore have been short, marking my leisurely progress through the 300,000-plus words of Tom Jones. This shall be a bit longer, catching up some comments I've accumulated lately whilst reading at night in bed on the little Kindle.
Fielding has divided the novel into numerous separate Books, and has taken advantage of this division to insert himself into the narrative by using the first chapter of each book to address the reader directly. In the opening to Book X, he expresses his opinion of critics in no uncertain terms, calling them "little reptiles."
He takes this further in the first chapter of Book XI, using concepts that have driven many of us to distraction here more than a quarter of a millenium later.
CONTAINING ABOUT THREE DAYS.
A crust for the critics.
In our last initial chapter we may be supposed to have treated that formidable set of men who are called critics with more freedom than becomes us; since they exact, and indeed generally receive, great condescension from authors. We shall in this, therefore, give the reasons of our conduct to this august body; and here we shall, perhaps, place them in a light in which they have not hitherto been seen.
Fielding, Henry. History of Tom Jones, a Foundling . Kindle Edition.
Fielding himself had been the victim of severe criticism. He began his literary career as a playwright, then switched to novels when criticism of the political commentary in his plays resulted in official censorship in the form of the Licensing Act of 1737. His response, harsh and carrying more than a whiff of BBAism, should probably be viewed from the perspective of author exploitation, since the theatrical producers and book publishers wielded almost absolute power, and the critics were their handmaidens.
Still, this section, with my emphasis added, made me wince:
Nor shall we conclude the injury done this way [via criticism] to be very slight, when we consider a book as the author's offspring, and indeed as the child of his brain.
The reader who hath suffered his muse to continue hitherto in a virgin state can have but a very inadequate idea of this kind of paternal fondness. To such we may parody the tender exclamation of Macduff, "Alas! Thou hast written no book." But the author whose muse hath brought forth will feel the pathetic strain, perhaps will accompany me with tears (especially if his darling be already no more), while I mention the uneasiness with which the big muse bears about her burden, the painful labour with which she produces it, and, lastly, the care, the fondness, with which the tender father nourishes his favourite, till it be brought to maturity, and produced into the world.
Nor is there any paternal fondness which seems less to savour of absolute instinct, and which may so well be reconciled to worldly wisdom, as this. These children may most truly be called the riches of their father; and many of them have with true filial piety fed their parent in his old age: so that not only the affection, but the interest, of the author may be highly injured by these slanderers, whose poisonous breath brings his book to an untimely end.
Lastly, the slander of a book is, in truth, the slander of the author: for, as no one can call another bastard, without calling the mother a whore, so neither can any one give the names of sad stuff, horrid nonsense, &c., to a book, without calling the author a blockhead; which, though in a moral sense it is a preferable appellation to that of villain, is perhaps rather more injurious to his worldly interest.
Now, however ludicrous all this may appear to some, others, I doubt not, will feel and acknowledge the truth of it; nay, may, perhaps, think I have not treated the subject with decent solemnity; but surely a man may speak truth with a smiling countenance. In reality, to depreciate a book maliciously, or even wantonly, is at least a very ill-natured office; and a morose snarling critic may, I believe, be suspected to be a bad man.
Fielding, Henry. History of Tom Jones, a Foundling . Kindle Edition.
If Fielding's social commentary offended certain personages who had the power to keep him, or writers like him, from reaching an audience, perhaps he had some justification for his remarks. Having just begun to research the man himself, I'm now curious whether his experience and his writings influenced the attitudes of the colonists who just a few decades later would make government censorship one of the very first "thou shalt nots" of a new nation.
Author, playwright, critic, pamphleteer, lawyer, judge, police commissioner, Henry Fielding was born this date, 22 April 1707.
Murder has always bothered me. I freely admit to being more than a little squeamish about it. Harry tells me I need to develop a sense of detachment, but I've never been able to do that. I still see all the victims as, well, as people. Thinking about what happened to them makes me uncomfortable. Many's the night I've slept with the lights on. Many's the night I've not been able to sleep at all.
Almost every year at least one someone goes off into the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix in search of the Lost Dutchman's gold and gets lost . . . permanently. Sometimes the remains are found soon enough to determine what happened, but sometimes months or even years go by before a hiker or another gold seeker stumbles across a few bleached bones scattered by scavenging coyotes.
Paul Fremantle, age 37, a cost accountant with a mobile home manufacturing company in Elkhart, Indiana, was one such disappearance.
If the circumstances surrounding Paul Fremantle's disappearance were more or less typical, Paul himself didn't seem to be. No one had ever taken him for a fool.
Only a fool searches for the Dutchman's gold in the summer.
. . . that perhaps the P2P author whose initials are ELJ has done it again, I thought I'd let you all know that yes, indeed, there are "books."
(And the 1970s series was far, far superior.)
The first four paperbacks were retitled to tie in with the Masterpiece Theatre presentation; I happen to have one paperback -- The Last Gamble -- issued before the television series.
Author Fielding and the fourth wall.
BOOK X. IN WHICH THE HISTORY GOES FORWARD ABOUT TWELVE HOURS.
Chapter i. Containing instructions very necessary to be perused by modern critics.
Fielding, Henry. History of Tom Jones, a Foundling . Kindle Edition.
Mr. Fielding, who, among other accomplishments, is credited with organizing the Bow Street Runners as London's first professional police force, is nothing if not forthright in addressing his audience of readers. And he does so with sharp wit.
First, then, we warn thee not too hastily to condemn any of the incidents in this our history as impertinent and foreign to our main design, because thou dost not immediately conceive in what manner such incident may conduce to that design. This work may, indeed, be considered as a great creation of our own; and for a little reptile of a critic to presume to find fault with any of its parts, without knowing the manner in which the whole is connected, and before he comes to the final catastrophe, is a most presumptuous absurdity.
Fielding, Henry. History of Tom Jones, a Foundling . Kindle Edition.
Oh, dear, would he be among the ranks of Badly Behaving Authors who attack their critics?
It's an amusing thought to consider.
Book IX, Chapter i, containing sound advice for writers in 2019 as in 1749.
I must confess, if I haven't already, that I read Tom Jones once before, many years ago, and of course I've seen the film numerous times. Perhaps knowing the story allows me to appreciate the writing more. Fielding's gift for humor and sarcasm delights, though it doesn't erase his classism or religious bigotry. I'm so glad we no longer have either in our 21st century popular fiction!
I have not yet located all the polished fire agates in my collection, but this morning I found the vast majority of them. Most are relatively poor quality, either because there wasn't sufficient fire in the rough stones or because they weren't properly processed. Some, however, are pretty nice.
Among the former, the not-so-good ones, I did find an amazing surprise. These pictures aren't great, but I think they give an idea of what is possible when it comes to fire agate and sagenite.
I am enjoying this at a pace that I consider similar to having it read aloud to the family in the evenings back in 1749 when it was first published. Even though there are a gazillion "errors" based on today's standards, it's wonderful to see how the style of novel writing has developed over the course of 270 years . . . and how the fundamentals have remained the same.
Somewhere around 1988 or 1989, my husband and I bought two batches of rough fire agates. The first was a 5-gallon bucket of small stones -- nothing much more than 1 1/2 inches (4.0 cm) -- that had been halfway processed. Most of the matrix rock had been removed and some of the chalcedony, but the stones were far from finished. I think we paid $150 for the bucket, and it probably weighed between 75 and 100 pounds.
The seller was an old man best described as a desert rat, then in his early 80s. He admitted to quitting school after the third grade, and I'm not sure he could read or write much more than his own name. He had acquired quite a collection of treasures, however, that he had found out in the wildernesses of Arizona and the rest of the southwest. He lived in a little trailer with electricity but no indoor plumbing, parked on a spot of cotton farm land because he had worked much of his later adult life for the owners. He drank more than a little and bathed not at all, but he had cigar boxes full of old coins -- some of them gold -- and gold nuggets and Native American jewelry and I don't even remember what all else.
In spite of his personal habits, he had been married at one time and had two daughters, both of whom had been quite successful. One of them wrote his obituary a few years after we bought the stones from him; she remembered him fondly, though they'd been estranged for many years.
We bought the second batch from another desert rat a year or so later. He was a more or less retired long-haul truck driver who had been bitten by the gold bug. He and his wife sold everything they had to embark on a quest for gold, which his research had told him could be found in the area of the Belmont Mountains in Arizona.
He had obtained a lease on private land in the area and established a camp, of sorts, but the living conditions were more primitive than the old man in the trailer. All the money had gone into equipment, and very little gold came out.
How he found me I'm not sure, but he was desperate for funding to continue his gold prospecting and learned that I was in the market for fire agates. He had, he said, about 300 pounds of rough, dug from a hitherto unknown location in either the Belmont or adjacent Big Horn Mountains. He was asking $1500 for the lot.
Back in those days, five dollars a pound for fire agate rough was a fair price, but when I saw the material I had a feeling he was inflating its value. The sample pieces he showed me had obviously quality fire agate material, the dark brown underlying a thick later of milky white chalcedony, but they also had substantial rhyolite matrix, probably at least half the overall weight. That pushed the price to ten dollars a pound, more than I wanted -- or could afford -- to pay.
An acquaintance who knew nothing about rocks but who was accustomed to moving large, heavy objects took me aside and said he thought there was more than 300 pounds. Though I was wary of trusting his judgment, I knew that there were some very, very good quality stones. I was sorely tempted. And my husband was very, very interested in learning how to work them. In spite of my reservations, we bought the stones and invested in the equipment to process them. As it turned out, the total weight came to just under 500 pounds, and I felt better about parting with the cash.
We never heard from the prospector again. Five or six years later we ventured out to his claim site and saw only rusting, rotting heavy equipment and abandoned holes in the ground.
Life being what life is, we processed some of the stones from each purchase, but when you're working a full time job and raising two teenagers, it's not always easy to find the time to sit and grind rocks. Since they don't eat or spoil, they don't make urgent demands. They just wait.
After my husband passed away in 2005, I didn't make any determination on the rocks in general other than to keep them and bring them with me when I moved to the other side of Phoenix. They went into five-gallon buckets and for several years were stored in a small shed in the far back of the yard. A few years ago, when I bought a new rock saw, I dragged them out of the shed -- eeeeiuw, spiders! -- and started to sort and label and process them.
The fire agates, five buckets of them, were set aside. I moved as many of the buckets as I could to locations out of the direct sun, which rots the plastic buckets, but I didn't have room for all of them. So the fire agates stayed where they were by the shed. Even if the buckets rotted, the stones were okay.
As you know, earlier this week I started playing around with the fire agates again. I have the equipment to process them, but I don't have the skill to grind through the layers of chalcedony and reach the colorful layers of fire. My thought was to take a look at what's in these buckets that I haven't looked at in maybe 20 years and see if there are some that I can sell.
I don't need all these rocks.
The weather forecast this morning was for cooler temperatures - meaning the 70s. We're closing in on early summer, with highs reaching the 90s by the end of the week and gradually creeping above that. My time to work outdoors is rapidly coming to an end. If ever I was going to look at those buckets, today was the day.
Oh, did I mention that in addition to the five buckets still sitting outside the little creepy shed, I have found two more? Yep, seven buckets of rough fire agates.
Full of determination, I headed out there this morning, armed with a set of barbecue
tongs (because I'm NOT going to reach in there with my bare hands) and a couple of new plastic shoe boxes.
The big stones were on the top. I pulled them out and set them aside. Then I started going for the smaller ones, one at a time.
The first surprise was a pleasant one: Every single stone I pulled out of the bucket had visible fire. Every. Single. One.
A lot of less expensive fire agate material being sold today is "mine run," which means there's basically no quality control. You might get fire agate, or you might get matrix. There are also online sellers who offer "fire agate without fire" for shameful prices. I was, I have to admit, a bit shocked that every single piece of this material not only had the brown chalcedony that means maybe/probably it's fire agate, but that every single piece show some glimmer of true fire.
The not-so-pleasant surprise? About two-thirds of the way through the bucket, I encountered water. The lid had cracked and leaked just enough to let in rain, and it hadn't got out. The result was horrible, horrible green slime. I half expected creatures to come crawling out of it! Sadly, a quick examination of just one of the other four buckets revealed more water in it, too, and I could already see that the other lids were cracked, which meant they, too, were almost certainly filled with water. Well, that's what barbecue tongs are for right?
I continued to lift out each stone one at a time and check for quality. Every single one, even the ones coated in green slime, went into the shoe box. Every single one had fire.
One, I noticed, had something special. I set it aside for a later photograph.
Right in the middle is a little tiny spray of grassy-looking things. It's actually part of the rock, and it's called sagenite (SAA-gin-ite). Sagenitic fire agate is quite rare, so this was definitely a pleasant surprise!
It took most of an hour to pluck all the stones out of the bucket, and remember, I have six more buckets! The larger pieces are set aside for the time being, though they'll probably go back in the bucket now that I've cleaned it out. It's also now on the workshop patio where it's less in direct sun and protected from rain. The smaller stones filled two plastic shoe boxes.
I'm going to have to take inventory of the shoe boxes again.
That picture was taken several years ago, and the shelves have been reorganized since then. I think at last count, however, there were around 70 shoe boxes full of rocks.
The website www.fireagate.com has some stupendous photos of finished stones, most from the Deer Creek location in southeastern Arizona. Do I have any rough that would polish into a dime-sized bit with a $3,000 price tag? Um, probably not. But I haven't taken a close enough look at these stones to determine what colors they contain. The blues and greens and purples push the value up, and most of what I saw was yellow, gold, and red. But there were some flashes of green, too, so who knows?
If the temperature cools off a little this afternoon, I'll be out with my barbecue tongs and shoe boxes, plucking stones out of yucky mucky buckets. And the same tomorrow, getting as much as I can before the weather puts a halt to working in the sun. I'm really trying to bring some order to the chaos . . . . . and find treasures while I'm at it.
...[When] Booklikes dies.
It's looking like a real possibility that one day well try to visit this site and it won't be here. I've enjoyed my interactions with pretty much everyone here and I'd like to continue them.
If anyone is so inclined, I can also be found haunting the following places:
I think I made a post like this once before, but I can't remember if it was here specifically. Either way, I'll stay here until there is no more here. I wholeheartedly hope that's never the case, but it does seem as though we've been abandoned.
Edited to add another photo.
You can look up pictures online and they will be way better than mine, but these are for reference.
Large raw fire agate:
Fire agate with overlying chalcedony removed, photographed dry:
Same stone, wet:
Polished fire agate:
NEW PHOTO: Well, not really new, but a cropped view of the above stone to show how the layers are formed in the stone. They're relatively far apart in this one -- more chalcedony between the layers of iron oxide that make the colors. Sometimes they're much closer together.
My lot is 1.25 acres that is normally bare gravel except where there are cactus or other plants. This year we had a lot of rain in the winter and early spring (February is early spring here) that brought out a bumper crop of wild grass and other weeds. The yard became a mess.
My neighbor sprays her yard with very nasty chemicals to make sure there are no weeds at all anywhere, not a single one. She is very upset that I have all these weeds that might fling a seed in her gravel and sprout into a weed. I have pulled up some of the grass and pickery-stickery weeds, but I just can't get them all. There are just too many. So I have an ugly yard right now.
However, I also have a few flowers.
Baja Fairy Duster
Creosote bush -- these grow wild everywhere, so no one pays much attention to them, but they have really pretty little yellow flowers if you get up close and look.
Chuparosas are also native to our area, but they aren't very showy. The flowers are small red tubes, and the hummingbirds love them. "Chuparosa" means "rose-sucker," and that's what the hummingbirds do! I have two big chuparosas, plus a new volunteer one seeded from the others.
The big one planted by the front gate. (The yellow flowers behind it are a creosote bush.)
Seeded from the big one. (You can see some of the yucky grass, now starting to dry.)
I used to have lots and lots and lots of hedgehog cactus around the property, but most of them have died for some reason or other. They are nasty things, with thorns that break off very easily and spread everywhere. They get into the dogs' feet and faces and are difficult to remove. But they do have absolutely glorious flowers.
Last year we had not a single hedgehog bloom because of lack of rain, but this year we have flowers! I had to walk outside the fence to get a few pictures, but it was worth it. These flowers only last one day before they shrivel up like the two at the upper left. But that's another bud getting ready, too.
Also outside the fence are some prickly pear cactus that seem to be tasty morsels for some critters.
It could be rabbits or deer or javelina that are feasting. And as you can see, more grass! These prickly pear will have big yellow flowers in a couple more days. (More creosote in the background.)
The cactus don't live forever, obviously, but a single surviving pad can generate a whole new plant. This is a big Santa Rita that collapsed a couple years ago, but it still has a surviving sprout.
The cactus will seed themselves, too. Underneath the big chuparosa, a hedgehog is growing.
I couldn't get close enough to see if those are flower buds on it. But over to the right, also under the chuparosa, is a baby barrel cactus, also a volunteer.
On the other side of the path from the chuparosa, a baby saguaro and another baby barrel cactus are growing next to each other.
More to come tomorrow!