Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Patriot's Library

As the term "liberty of the press" is adopted in this country without being understood I will state the origin of it and shew what it means.*

Last night on Channel Thirteen I watched the concluding episode of “The Abolitionists.”  Like most of “The American Experience” offerings, it was excellent.  It had the usual wonderful old photographs and the usual rainbow coalition of American historians offering commentary.  Their fad of speaking in a chatty historical present—“So Lincoln reads this letter, and he goes ballistic…” sort of thing—annoyed me, or perhaps annoys me; but that is a mere quibble overwhelmed by the quality of the information conveyed.

            I noticed that the National Endowment for the Humanities was on the list of financial supporters for the program.  That caught my eye, perhaps, because like many liberal arts professors I myself have enjoyed the support of the NEH in years past.  I did receive a fellowship from the Endowment one year, but my more extensive experience with the organization involved teaching several summer seminars, some for high school teachers and some for college professors.  Some of my happiest experiences in a long teaching career relate to those seminars.

            I am a patriot—that is, a lover of my native land—as I would hope that most of my far-flung readers are.  I can imagine few activities more truly patriotic than studying the history of my country—seriously, honestly, and with that kind of moral intentionality that compares the words of our founding documents and the lives of our acknowledged national heroes against the background of the actual social realities of the “American experience”, past and present.

            It was therefore discouraging to me to hear a self-proclaimed patriot in our Congress, when asked for concrete ideas as to how to attack an eminently unpatriotic sixteen trillion dollar national deficit, offer as his sole specific suggestion, defunding the National Endowment for the Humanities.  The budget request made by the NEH for 2013 is, I think, about a hundred and fifty million dollars.  For that amount of money the government could get about three-eights of one F-22 fighter plane, according to the most recent figures I’ve seen.  How I do wish H. L. Mencken were still with us.  We at last have achieved a congressional boobocracy fully worthy of his scorn.

            However, the purpose of this post is not to bash the benighted but to energize the enlightened.  It is my annual call to patriotism. Among the worthy groups that have enjoyed some very modest support from the NEH is the Library of America, the non-profit publishing enterprise with the mission of making available in scholarly and beautiful editions the works of important American writers.  I cannot imagine a more patriotic mission than the preservation and dissemination of our extraordinary American literary culture, and the chaste dust jacket of every Library of America volume discreetly but proudly is banded in red, white, and blue.

            My blog has apparently gained a readership far greater than I could have imagined.  My chief evidence for this claim, though circumstantial, is to me quite convincing.  It is the increasing frequency and urgency with which I am encouraged to “monetize” the blog—meaning make money off it by opening it to commercial advertisements.  Such a suggestion is of course highly gratifying to me.   First it means that somebody out there in cyberland who knows how to count readers has counted enough of them to offer me a little money to go commercial; second, because the money proposed is so little, I can safely scorn it, and with a deeply satisfying high-mindedness.  So I continue to promise my readers: as you scroll through Gladlylerne, you will not be encouraged to drink Pepsi or undergo liposuction, even at the hands of our board-certified plastic surgeons.

            The Library of America is another matter.  I will continue to make an annual appeal—entirely unsolicited by the librarians, needless to say, or even known to them--on the library’s behalf.  If you are an American, I urge you to visit the Library’s website.  If you are a literate American, I urge you in a spirit of patriotism to join as a subscriber.  We will grant a pass to semi-literates, for whom ordering merely one or two of the current specials will suffice.  I note that Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales is among them.  If you’re the kind of patriot who specializes in musket-lore, that’s the one for you.

*Thomas Paine, Collected Writings (Library of America, 76), p. 429.