[lit-ideas] Re: Wednesday Poem

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 10 May 2006 20:46:21 -0700

I'm told today--
perhaps I knew--
that Russian has no letter "h."
This is one of those choice notes
that improve only when you don't investigate their truth.

Napoleon invades.
"At least we know how to spell him," they say.
Hitler invades, "Heiling" himself...

At the conference on Eighteenth Century Scottish Studies
we were urged to embrace our inner Enlightenment,
to reject all forms of Walter Scottishness.
Adam Smith and Hugh Blair and that chair of logic, David Ritchie
and John Robertson and Hume and all those luminaries,
they were to be our guides.

But the aristocrats
bend the story back.

Sir William Drummond Stewart was a wild, Romantic figure,
who went,
dressed in white,
with male fur trappers,
spying his way through the American West,
and then taking souvenirs--buffalo and Indians and paintings and chairs--
home to Murthly.

Elgin, he of the marbles, was also a Scot,
a Bruce, no less.
Appointed Ambassador Extraordinaire to the Ottoman Empire,
Thomas, 7th Earl, paid for bits of the Parthenon
with his wife's money.
(She ran off with a Ferguson,
and lost five children
in the divorce.)

Thomas Cochrane, model for the Hornblower and the Maturin novels,
sounds Irish in my ear,
but really he was the eldest son of Archibald,
ninth earl of Dundonald.
The father was an innovator who showed James Watt exactly where the coal gas was
and how it could be used.
Thomas, the son, had this lust for prizes,
and boarding,
which brought him glory,
but the stock he put in the stock exchange,
and friends,
carried him to public pillory.
Though he escaped to fight another day,
scouring the coasts of Chile, Peru, Brazil and Greece,
once outnumbering the whole Portuguese fleet
with but a single ship,
he is not well remembered.

There's a lesson in this somewhere.

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon

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