Tuesday, July 16, 2019

WWFDD?

Douglass had been taken from his parents. His ancestors had been herded into cages, so was he. He and Anna Douglass broke the law to find a better life for themselves and their children. They defied the law to help people seek asylum in Canade. He searched for asylum himself.  His family had been in the United States, then the British North American colony of Maryland, since the 1730s at least. Yet, in 1858, the Supreme Court ruled that he and his entire family were not Americans nor should they be. Whole organizations were devoted to deporting people like him to Africa. When the Constitution granted him citizenship and seemed to protect his right to vote -- it couldn't bar him from voting because of his color or his previous condition of servitude, to be specific -- the federal government did nothing to stop states from finding their ways around the intent of those amendments. He and Helen Douglass had become aware of convict lease by the end of his life. Ida B. Wells made sure they knew of the malpractice of the law-enforcement system against black men in the South.

His was a tune that many people would like to say sounds old-timey, nothing to do with today.

People have plenty of opinions about Douglass and today's politics, not all of them good and quite a number of them would not even qualify as "half-baked." (Reason number 5088 that I'm not on Twitter.) The problem with discussing Douglass and politics is that many people like to use him to advance their own agenda. Kind of like the Bible or the Constitution, depending on what passages you pull out, you can draft Douglass into any camp that you want.

Words and ideologies have contexts and a person's can change over the course of a lifetime. Not only that, but a person who is radical on one issue can be conservative on another. Douglass, for instance, was very much a radical anti-racist as an abolitionist while at the same time engaged in the politics of respectability, which you can't really classify as conservative or liberal according to our understanding of the terms today.  Quite often he played with the contradictions.

Still, some things seem pretty clear. If you admire Frederick Douglass and what he did, but think that holding asylum-seekers in pens, separating them from their children, and telling naturalized or native-born women of color who, not incidentally, are representing their constituencies in Congress to leave the country is all fine, you might want to reexamine your reasons. Douglass isn't here to weigh in, but his life certainly gives us an idea.


Monday, 31 January [1887]: The National Archaelogical Museum of Naples

After an uneventful if mysteriously "strange sermon at the U.P. Church, on the greatness of man" on Sunday, the Douglasses met again with Eleanor Lewis and set off for the Museo Nazionale, now called the Museo Archeologico Nazionale or National Archaeological Museum. Then, as now, this is the museum to visit while in Naples, akin to the Uffizi in Florence; and the Baedeker of 1880 that the Douglasses carried with them referred to it as "The Museum" and gave a room-by-room description along with a map. Today, as then, Sundays are free. (Be aware of this that most museums in Italy are free on Sundays.)



While the museum has many exhibits, the main draw is and was the thing that Douglass mentioned: "A birds eye view of pictures, statuary and many objects of interest, taken from the ruins of Pompei and Herculanium."

The birds-eye view was actually a model, made in the 1850s, of the archeological digs as they stood at that time. The meticulous care with which the model-makers reproduced the mosaics and, more importantly, the frescoes on the walls, have served as some of the only records of those images because years -- centuries, now -- of exposure have caused them to deteriorate. Burial preserved the site, excavation restarted the processes of age.




Because of those processes, most of the artifacts and art were removed from the sites of the two cities and into this museum. (There's a longer history to that, but you can refer to Mary Beard's engaging work for more on the subject.)  "The perfection of some of these in form and color and utility was remarkable considering their antiquity," Douglass commented in his diary. "In some respects they transcended modern art."

He was not wrong. I'm not sure what pieces he may have seen, but here are some samples.

The expression on the donkey's face!

Evidence of writing. 
Also, note the head scarf, continuing Douglass's observations from the train.

This is a famous picture, so seeing it is like seeing a celebrity. More than that, taken with the image above, you get a sense of the range of phenotypes, or skin color and hair textures -- the markers of what we call "race" today -- that existed in the Roman Empire. This piqued Douglass's curiosity as he travelled southward through Europe.

Medusa.

A miniature skeleton.

A miniature Isis Fortuna

A massive Hercules. The copy in the background is modern, as in the past decade. An artist did this big performance thing in which he made replicas of various artifacts from Pompeii and blew them up with various colored gunpowder at the Pompeii amphitheater. He had some blah-blah-blah-dialogue-with-the-past artist statement, but, really, I think he just wanted to blow shit up.

A sample of a glass bottle still containing the remnants of oil.

A sample of a glass bottle melted by Vesuvius's heat.

Medusa.
Another celebrity siting. This is in every World Civilizations textbook I've seen. It is a mosaic that covered a floor in a Pompeiian villa and supposedly depicts Alexander the Great defeating the Persian king Darius.

Darius in mosaic.The detail and expression are amazing, rendered in tiny flecks of stone.

Alexander the Great in mosaic. Even the horse has an expression.
More reminders of mortality.

Medusa.
From the base of a mosaic column. Those are actual shells.

Detail on a column.
There was one room that Douglass probably did not visit, and they did have it in those days because the Baedeker mentions it. You see, the Romans were earthy people, not as uptight about sexuality or nudity as later generations, and certainly not as constricted as those in the nineteenth century. The were, after all, people who considered enormous male genitalia to be good luck symbols.  The founders of the museum in the eighteenth century already began to realize that certain people, especially ladies, did not have the sensibility for some of the artifacts. So, they took the most obvious ones and put them in a "Secret Room" or "Reserved Cabinet," "Raccolta Pornografica" in Italian, according to Baedeker, "to which men only are admitted." The Baedeker describes it as containing "mural and other paintings not adapted for public exhibition, and numerous bronzes, some of them of considerable artistic merit." (That sounds very much like the descriptions of Playboy that praise it for the articles.) They let women in these days and, let me tell you, the Romans were all about the dick. It was quite tedious.

The room is now called the Secret Room, "Gabinetto Segretto." 

The equivalent of lawn ornaments.

This was carved into the side of a building. 
Today, the room lies beyond the mosaics, near the one depicting Alexander and Darius. In the 1880s, according to the Baedeker, this room lay next to one in which gold and silver object, including jewelry, and cameos were on display. That is, things that ladies would have liked to have seen.

Douglass was there with ladies and he himself was no libertine, especially given his reaction to meeting Victoria Woodhull a couple of months later when they returned to Rome. He and they probably averted their eyes from this Racolta.

As for the rest of  the collections, he concluded, "The musium is something to be seen not once but many times in order to comprehend its many attractions[.]" Certainly going to it before and after seeing the two sites would make the visit deeper and richer than a Sunday afternoon.

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

[Saturday] 29 January [1887]: San Martino

Whatever the morning was like, Frederick "Spent the fore noon in writing." Clearly, he was not writing diary entries but more likely letters. He would make note of the recipient of letters, but usually when writing to family. Other sources indicate that he corresponded with more people than he noted in his journal.

Later, he and Helen met with "Mrs Davis of Ind." Mark Emerson, intrepid editor of the Douglasses' travel diaries in the days before digitization, tracked down Mrs. Davis, discovering that she was Hannah Ellen Brown Davis of Spiceland, Indiana, where she and her now-departed husband Clarkson (who had died in 1883), had run an academy.

This "amiable lady," a teacher, raised in the Society of Friends but, according to her memorial, possessing "that catholicity in religion which belongs to real culture wherever it is found," and a lover of literature probably got along quite well with the Douglasses. He certainly impressed her. In the single letter from her to him in the Library of Congress, a Christmas 1889 wish to him while he served in Haiti, she addressed him as "Reverend dear friend," and wrote, "with your weight of cares and perplexities, my thought has often gone in sympathy to you. To how few has it been given to serve their race and nation so long and so worthily. May God's grace return you to your country, your family and friends in safety." But, before that, after the Douglasses departed from Naples headed to Egypt, she composed a poem, "To Frederick Douglass, On His Seventieth Birthday, While in Egypt.":

by Hannah E. Davis

Hannah Ellen Brown Davis

Spiceland lies just outside of Indianapolis, eastward and not far south off of I-70. I lived not far from it for a few weeks, in an extended-stay hotel, when I first moved there back in 2001 to begin work at the Douglass Papers project; but, that is a whole other story -- a few other stories, as a matter of fact. Spiceland also lies not too very far from Pendleton, as well. In his younger days, Douglass had suffered a beating there that had resulted in a broken hand that ached him for the rest of his life.

But, I digress.

Davis joined Frederick and Helen a they went up to another of the highest points in Naples to see "San Martino, a convent of the Capuchin Monks, the largest convent of the kind in the world." He goes on to explain to his diary that, " It is however no longer a living convent. It has been taken possession of by the Government, and its fine halls are now a musium full of paintings and many other interesting works of Art. The church in this old convent is one of the most costly in Europe."

We ourselves saved this for the last day, or last half-day, since we would return to Rome that afternoon and nothing about it in the guide books promised anything that we were dying to see. After all, we were using Naples more as a base to see things around Naples. We had walked up toward Capodimonte on our first day -- not to see Capodimonte but to see the San Gennaro catacombs, which Douglass did not see, or did not write about seeing, but were quite worth a look and which tourist could go visit in those days. We chose to take a cab up to the museum on the day that we visited it, which was a last minute thing and involved changing train tickets and all sorts of boring logistical stuff that has nothing to do with Douglass. I'll just sum up that the cab ride was more fun than a roller coaster.

Anyway, the point here is that, the hill up to Capodimonte rose at less of a grade than the hill up to San Martino, and our fifty-to-sixty year old twenty-first century selves only wanted to make it once.. San Martino looked more like you needed a grappling hook to ascend. To give you an idea in medieval and Renaissance military terms, which Douglass does not mention, but just above the former monastery rises Castle Sant' Elmo.  This is from inside its walls:


This is what it looks like from Capodimonte. (The weather in this picture, by the way, was a bit more typical of what we experienced in Italy this time around -- about half the time we were there. To think a heat wave hit the next month.):


Short on time and unwilling to climb the what-must-have-been-five-gazillion steps to get to the top of the hill, we just took one of the several funiculars. I thought it would be more exciting than it was and have views. No, it was just a train, going up a hill, but keeping your seat level, and with the usual views of graffitied walls and overgrown weeds.

How did Douglass and his party get up? Well, according to the Baedeker guide, they could walk up a zigzag road or hire a donkey to an omnibus station. Then, they could ride the bus up an old military road that wound around the mountain. At various points, it seems, they could hop off and take smaller roads or steps the rest of the way up, or they could just take a carriage the whole way.

Frederick, Helen, and Davis went in to see the museum. My companion and I just sat outside, deciding that the price of admission was probably not worth our time. Although the Baedeker insisted that San Martio "is not less remarkable for the beauty of its situation and its views, than for the great value of tis contents," in our different centuries, arriving in our different ways, Douglass, me, and my companion all came to the same conclusion: "I have seen so much of these religious paintings, that I was less interested in what I found here than in the fine view of the city and harbor."


We probably could have seen more had we gone in, but we enjoyed this well enough, and had to be on our way in any case (especially after I took up some time in a cameo shop where the proprietor, charming at first, ended up demonstrating that #MeToo has not reached this corner of Naples).

Whatever Douglass did the next day was either so much fun or far too boring to record. All he wrote was "Heard a strange sermon at the U.P. Church on the greatness of man." That alone leaves so many questions that he never did answer.

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Friday, June 28, 2019

Summer Touring Schedule (such as it is)

The book tour, such as it is, continues. Now is the season of summer schools and institutes, which are always fantastic no matter how you participate in them.

Last week, the lovely and brilliant Douglas Egerton and I drove down to Lawrenceville Academy in Princeton, New Jersey, to speak to historian Erik Chaput's summer school class on Frederick Douglass. The class is on Frederick Douglass, that is. Doug spoke about black abolition and I used Anna Murray to guide them through methods of research and ways to alert themselves to questions that they should be asking when they confront different types of information in documents. I had a great time, and I hope that they did, too. I forgot that they were high school seniors because they acted and thought like college seniors.

Only the book in the center is mine. 
The rest are only a fraction of Doug's output.
Erik took the picture.

Next up will be Graham Hodges' NEH Seminar for teachers on Abolition and the Underground Railroad at Colgate University, followed by Carol Berkin's on American Women at War in New York City, then on to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to chair a panel on abolition at the Society of Historians of the Early American Republic's annual meeting, followed by the Chittenango Boat Landing at the beginning of August. That last one is open to the public.

Fall will take this show overseas again, this time to Newcastle-upon-Tyne for Newcastle University's INSIGHTS series of lectures (this is last year's program). Newcastle was the home of the Richardsons, who began the campaign to purchase Douglass's freedom and provide the seed money for the North Star. Guess what my talk will be about?

Meanwhile, (among other things like two book proposals, one submitted) I'm writing an essay for an anthology, Frederick Douglass in Context, edited by Michael Roy, who was part of that conference in Paris last year. My essay is about Douglass and family, and I don't want to retread what I have already said nor do I want to tread on what I know of Ezra Greenspan's upcoming work (as if I could ever be as good!). Looking back on something that you've gone over a million times to see something new can be a challenge because you have to step away from your own patterns and ruts of thinking when you sometimes aren't even aware that you have them. I also have a problem figuring out when I'm saying something original because I'm too aware of where I picked up so many ideas and then I've lived with my own configuration of them for so long. Knowing what you have can sometimes be a different thing from stepping back and re-asking, "what do I have?"

Monday, June 17, 2019

[Friday,] 28 January [1887]: To the Bourbon Palace

On their first full day in Naples, the Douglasses joined a group that included Adelia Gates, a well-travelled botanical artist, which was a common field for women artists in those days, her niece Eleanor Lewis, who subsequently donated Gates's collection to the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and a Mr. and Mrs. Hipwell, whom Mark Emerson could not identify when he annotated Douglass's travel diary. Helen and Eleanor Lewis had hit it off in Rome, and I confess that I misidentified her as Edmonia Lewis, the African-Chippewa-American artists living in Rome who met both of the Douglasses while they were there. Edmonia Lewis did loan Helen some books, but they did not go to the museums together.

The Capodimonti is today, as then, a large park containing the former Bourbon Palace that serves as both a museum of the palace and of part of the Farnese collection housed in several places. At the top of one of the several hills that surround the Bay of Naples and make up the city, Douglass described Capodimonti as "a splendid place giving us a splendid view of the Bay, Vesuvius, Serento, Capri, and the surrounding country." From images that I could find online, that was probably true in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but less so today given the trees that have now grown along the perimeter. The best I could do (also given the weather on the day we visited -- we seemed to have brought the lingering drear of Syracuse, New York, to the Mediterranean with us) was from the second floor of the Palace. Yes, that is the ubiquitous Vesuvius there in the background. The ubiquitous Capri and Sorento were not visible on this day.:


Just as Douglass saw in his time, "The Palace is a plain stately building without,..." :


"….but very richly furnished and abounds with numerous works of Art, paintings and statuary." It looks a bit like Versailles in the parts meant to showcase the building as a palace, but not quite so glitzy. They also have an impressive display of armory. The paintings and statuary provided me with much material for a profane running commentary because, as Douglass said the next day when they went to visit a museum at San Martino, "I have seen so much of these religious paintings, that I was less interested in what I found here than in the fine view of the city and the harbor." Soooo many Virgins, and annunciations, and Jesus meeting John the Baptist, and nativities!

Two paintings did capture Douglass's attention. "A picture of the assassination of Julius Ceaser was very striking," he commented. Alas, I looked and looked but failed to see it. Although the arrangement of the art followed nineteenth century conventions, covering every inch of very tall walls to the point that you could hardly tell what some of them depicted, this one is supposed to be massive and difficult to miss.

The other, "one of Michel Angelo, kissing the hand of his dead friend, Vitoria Colonna, fixed attention," certainly did. Hanging directly across from the entrance to the room, with the light of the woman's dress emerging from the dark canvas, the image pulls your attention toward it from several rooms away.



Michelangelo kissing Colonna's hand, clutching his male friend's hand feels so quiet and sad. More than that, this secular image of  loss would affect a man who had so recently lost his own friend of two decades, his wife of forty-four years, and yearly learned of the death of yet another friend or family member. The painting itself was only seven years old itself at the time that Douglass saw it, so would have been fresh and bright, and not mentioned in his Baedeker, as the painting of Ceasar's death was.

Adelia Gates was an interesting companion in this excursion. In her sixties, she was a couple of years younger than Frederick and had spent the Bleeding Kansas years in the state on the anti-slavery side. I wonder if she had some influence on the topic of his speech to the Presbyterian Church, given that Brown first rose to infamy at Potawatomi.

Later, when the Douglasses returned to Rome after their sojourn through Egypt, Helen described her visit to the Capitolini Museum and Vatican in the company of Eleanor Lewis (when I misidentified Eleanor as Edmonia). Adelia Gates was there, as well. After Rome and Naples, Gates turned southward toward Algiers. She wanted to see Carthage, to see the Sahara, and to paint the flora of the oasis. Then, she, too, voyaged up the Nile and through the Holy Land. Gates's biography does not mention if Eleanor was in tow, although she seems to be up to this point. If Gates had already planned to cross the Mediterranean, I wonder if she influenced the Douglasses' decision to go south instead of turn back north as they travelled along the Amalfi coast. While in Rome, I wonder if the Douglasses gave them any travel advisories for Egypt. Either way, imagine what they may have spoken of in their discussions about Africa and what each thought of the origins and meanings of what they, in the nineteenth century, considered "civilization:" she the nice, white lady artist and he through a double veil.

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

8 Capella Vecchio

Once the Douglasses had arrived in Naples, where did they go for lodging? The Baedeker mentions several first and second class hotels, many in locations still considered choice along the waterfront, and pensiones for "a stay of from 3-4 days upward." Frederick, however, had directed his son Lewis to write to him care of Rev. J.C. Fletcher in Naples. Fletcher was a minister at one of the few "English" and therefore Protestant churches in the city, Presbyterian in this case, located at 8 Cappella Vecchia 2, an address quite difficult to find today both on the tourist map and on my phone.

But I did it. Here is what Google Maps shows from my computer at home. I assure you this is not quite what it looked like on my phone. On my phone, only a street shaped a bit like a reverse L appeared. As on this picture, the scale is usually difficult to determine. The pin also did not show on my phone.


As it turned out, we spent a lot of time in that general area, since that is in the "historic" part of the town where most of the tourists go and has most of the restaurants. Some of the surrounding streets, especially those around that triangle shaped monument and angling toward the water have names you might recognize if you follow high fashion. 

This, by the way, is the monument, The Monument to the Neapolitan Martyrs of the Risorgimento, which was there when the Douglasses were.:


The Cappella Vecchio would be on the other side of the buildings to the left. 

By the way, those tents in the background there cover a lovely little bar. About the time most Americans or English think of eating dinner, most Italians settle in for a nice cappuccino or glass of wine and a little snack. They don't eat dinner until much much later, nine or ten o'clock. We noticed that in Spain and in Normandy, too, but that's another story.

Anyway, I mention the bar because we had already had a glass there on a couple of occasions when I went in search of Cappella Vecchia, expecting a big church or even a modest church or anything that might have once passed for a church, rectory, and school that had once served a modest-sized English-language community into the twentieth century. Turns out, we had passed Cappella Vecchia not only every time we went to that bar, but several other times as well.  It just looked more like what we in America consider an alley. You have to adjust your eyes in medieval towns. 

This was the entrance to the street. 


Looking down the street. The garbage and graffiti is normal.

This is number 8, but who knows if it were number 8 when Douglass was there.


At the end of the street we came to this, a sort of courtyard to what looked like private homes and businesses.:


Inside of the courtyard, to the right as you enter, I found this. Not necessarily a church.:


Alas, this was just a bit of the graffiti in the archway to the courtyard and along the street. A faction seems to celebrate fascism with glorification of Mussolini and his ilk, including Trump in that set. I wondered if they were too young to have remembered what happened last time. Our guide in the Colosseum certainly had no love for the old guy, but that was Rome.


This was the view from the arch backdown the street, including the ubiquitous and deadly scooters and satellite dishes, neither of which were a site of Douglass's time, and laundry, which was..:


Back on the main street, looking down toward where the Douglasses would have stayed. That building in the foreground is clearly much more recent, so I wondered if the church stood there and was torn down since or perhaps became the victim of an Allied bomb. There is a parking garage just behind it, but the number 8 building, we could see thorough the grimy main floor door windows, seemed to have some construction going on inside. The floor and other architectural features were marble and the whole building seemed to have been adapted to multi-person housing. 

Here is a bird's eye view courtesy of Google Maps:


Alas, the one close-to-contemporary map that I have found in my limited search in not sharp enough to tell much more, and it dates to 1912.

Staying with the Fletchers. whom he mentions several time in his diary, and among winter tourist and expatriates from England and the United States, shaped the Douglasses' visit and certainly led to Frederick being called upon to speak. The head of the Presbyterian Church and Fletcher's co-worker if not boss, the Rev. Johnson Irvine, called upon Douglass to speak about John Brown on 1 February 1887, which not one of the regular meetings of the church.  The following Sunday, he attended the Methodist church in the city, which was not an English church but for Italian Methodists, and "was called upon for a few words at the close, which were interpreted by Mr. Jones." Jones was the Rev.  Thomas W. Jones, who headed the southern Methodist missionary district in Italy. Douglass had begun his spiritual life as a Methodist, so you can imagine he drew upon that in these "few words." 

Douglass's speech, according to himself, went something like: "I congratulated the congregation that they had now the Liberty to worship outside the Romish Church, and said a few words of human Brotherhood." He wasn't so much being explicitly anti-Catholic (which he, let's face it, was) as referring to the events of the previous two decades in Italy that had allowed for more religious freedom in Italy by breaking some of the Vatican's control over the newly unified nation. Jones interpreted what he said for the congregation. 

Where this was, however, was difficult to determine, especially since I am well-versed in neither Methodist nor Naples history. The Baedker had no reference to a Methodist Church, but it did mention "Italian Service of the Waldensian Church"  which was held on Sunday evenings in the Scotch church. I don't know exactly what all of that means, but some searching turned up that the Methodists worked with the Waldensians in Italy and Presbyterians are of Scottish origin. 

So, a wild-assed and semi-educated guess might have the Presbyterians, who had Sunday services at 11 am and 3pm, loaning their church building out to the Methodists and Waldensians for an evening service. The Waldensians also had another, presumably morning service, in their church in Montecalvario, which is a neighborhood north of the Presbyterian Church and partly on a hillside.

 Mark Emerson, who annotated Douglass's travel diary for his master's thesis, found it on a street called San Anna di Palazzo. I could not find that easily on my phone but have found it on my computer. I'm pretty sure we passed it once or twice.:


Note its proximity to the Presbyterian church. In any case, at this point, not finding it on my phone, however, I had to make the determination if I was on a Douglass's trip or my own. I chose the latter. Sometimes you just have to live your own life.
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