Thursday, April 14, 2011

from The Journal of Uriah Brown [1816]

The Aleghany as well as its Surrounding Mountains are ruined and kept poore by the raskally practice of seting fire to the same every 2 or 3 years; the persons that do it ought to be confined to the Mountains within the walls of a penitentiary built of the Materials they produce and fed on the beef of Rattle snakes & bears foot soop until the Great Masterly forests should Assume their natural & official Magnificence again.

Mr. Brown seems to have been an early sort of Greenpeace activist, at least in the confines of his own mind. The excerpt I read shows no signs of actual physical involvement in punishing the raskals. It is rather orthographically rambunctious, however, which has led me to ponder the curious non-errors in his spelling. Why does he write "penitentiary" correctly but misspell "soop"? I find this puzzling.

It rained and rained and sleeted and rained yesterday. This morning, the bare trees are black with wet, but the robins are chortling. More of the snow has melted, but broad patches and plow piles still linger, crusted with last fall's dirty leaves and this spring's dirty chicken footprints. Perhaps by this time next weekend I will be able to see my garden plot again.

Now I have to go choose poems for tonight's reading. I hope you're coming.


Thomas said...

I wonder if penitentiary's spelling results from it's being a Latinate word, unlike soup. I'm not sure of the dates of widespread spelling standardization in English, but an educated man would know his Latin!


Dawn Potter said...

That thought occurred to me as well, and makes sense, I think, given that "official" and "Magnificence" are also spelled correctly. Isn't it interesting that spelling is a mirror of pedagogy? Possibly this isn't a mirror one would want to examine too closely today. . . .

Anonymous said...

In the early 19th century the Noah Websters of the world were just in the process of establishing American spellings of common words that, if you look in the OED, are apt to have appeared in various guises in the case of words with OE, OF or otherwise uncertain roots like soop/soup or rascaille/raskal, whereas the only change for the Latinate penitentiary appears to be a "c" in the place of a "t" on occasion, as the word travelled through time.

In the case of "Greenpeacer" Brown, it's his thought that counts -- one more particle of light in the midst of great darkness.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for travelling to Rockland to read your very fine, and evocative poetry.

It was a good reminder that the Internet experience of anything is no experience at all.

(And may your prose work find a publishing house!).

Dawn Potter said...

Thank you so much for coming to the reading last night. I loved just sitting around and listening to people talk after the reading. It really is a pleasure to hear what an audience thinks and feels after hearing poems in the air.