Oh, Horatio! We all know Lord Nelson was a majorly kick-ass Naval commander — one of the most revered in English history. Nelson’s tactical skill and bravery won him many battles at sea, including the well-known Battle of Trafalgar where the combined French and Spanish fleet lost 22 of their 33 ships, and the British lost none of their 27. But did you know what a stone cold fox he was?
Later in his career, he had a very public affair with a woman who was recognized as the most beautiful woman in England, Emma, Lady Hamilton. An iconic face in contemporary painting, Emma was passed around by various British elite before meeting and falling in love with Nelson. Nelson was married and had been for years, but after meeting Emma, he fell in love with her as well. Problem was, she was already married to another old white dude, Sir William Hamilton, British envoy to Naples.
So Nelson loved Emma and Emma loved Nelson, and basically, Sir William was cool with this. He was so cool, in fact, that the three of them lived together openly in a righteous 18th century menage a trois while Nelson and Emma waited for Sir William to die so they could marry. He finally kicked it in 1803, but right about the same time Nelson was recalled to sea, and in 1805, he was killed at Trafalgar. Can someone please make a movie of this? Because I would definitely pay $13 to see it in 3D.
Oh yeah, and after his death, Lord Nelson became an immortal deity, as shown in this photograph. He was the man.
Today is a solemn occasion around the world. Whether you honor Armistice Day, Remembrance Day, or Veteran’s Day here in the States, we remember those who have served and continue to serve and say thank you for all you have done and all that you continue to do and sacrifice so that the rest of us may enjoy our freedoms. On days like these, only poetry will properly serve, so I give you one of the most famous WWI masterpieces of poetry: In Flanders Fields.
In Flanders Fields – Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
I love the Beatles. My first Beatles album listening experience came when I was 11 from a cassette tape recording of my parents’ Rubber Soul and Revolver albums. I am not overstating things when I say that Rubber Soul changed my life. To a sixth-grader whose radio options included Achey Breaky Heart and Boyz II Men, the Beatles pretty much blew my mind. I was recently gifted the remastered Beatles box set that came out a few years ago, and I’ve been listening my way through albums that I know by heart but never had on compact disc, and I’ve made it to my old friend Rubber Soul.
There’s a song at the end of the album called, “Run For Your Life,” where John as the singer portrays a jealous man talking to his lover, telling her he would rather see her dead than with another man (see the lyrics here). As a teenager, I saw it as a darkly sexy song that talks about violently passionate love without being actually threatening. But after listening to it now, I read a bit about John Lennon and discovered that it was openly acknowledged that he was abusive towards women. He admitted to hitting women and in one case he actually tried to strangle a woman he was dating. I’m surprised I didn’t know it already because when I was young, I watched Beatles biographies and read books about them. Maybe I did know but didn’t understand it back then the way I do now. Either way, knowing this now taints my experience of the Beatles’ music or at least John’s contribution. So back to “Run For Your Life.” What used to be a darkly hyperbolic song becomes flat-out frightening because now it seems completely serious. I imagine being his first wife listening to this and thinking, “This is a direct threat.” It’s hard to learn something like that about someone you idolize. Can you still respect them in the same way you used to? Can I listen to John sing about peace and love and not scoff cynically, knowing how hypocritical his words seem? What do you do when your hero proves a villain?
John Lennon isn’t the first hero to let me down. Let’s talk about Thomas Jefferson. If you are a regular reader, you know the Vicky A’s love our Founding Fathers, and we particularly love ourselves some TJ the Red, but wow, that guy was…complicated. There are some flat out wonderful and incredible things about Jefferson, but there are also some not so cool ones, and one downright villainous one. We now have pretty solid genetic evidence that Jefferson did father children with Sally Hemings, his slave. To me, that relationship in itself is not villainy. Historians generally believe that it was consensual  (though I’m not entirely sure what could ever truly be “consensual” in a master-slave relationship), and one can imagine that perhaps they truly shared a deep affection or even love for one another. The bad part, in my opinion, comes as a one-two punch. One, Hemings bears a half-dozen obviously mixed race children that are generally acknowledged to look like Jefferson, and the man keeps them on his books as slaves. Two, he does not free Hemings when he dies. Contrast this with George Washington who not only freed all his slaves in his will, but he planned for the piece-meal sale of Mount Vernon with the money gifted to the former slaves to help them start their lives as free men and women . Jefferson was a man who was gifted at the art of self-deception, and perhaps he was able to somehow compartmentalize things in his mind is such a way as to deny to himself that Heming’s children could also be his, but in my mind, that does not absolve him.
How about some Victorian villains? Prepare to have your Christmas ruined, because Charles Dickens was kind of a schmuck – to his wife, at least. After being married to her for 20-ish years, and after she gave him ten, yes TEN children, he left her for a pretty young actress the same age as his eldest daughter. Leaving an older spouse for a younger lover isn’t that uncommon, but then Dickens released public statements about his separation claiming that his wife was an “unloving and unloved mother.” He was known to criticize her appearance and mental abilities in letters to friends, and despite blaming her for the fact that they had way more kids than he wanted, he kept custody of all but the oldest when they separated leaving her sad and alone. Nice one, Ebenezer.
See also my confused relationship with the great Jack London who was a spell-binding writer and inspiring adventurer but also a philandering white supremacist.
So what is a girl to do when she finds out a person she admires and respects did, said, or believed some pretty heinous things? In some cases, we can explain (though not really excuse) behavior as a product of the times in which the person lived. We are perhaps unfairly tougher on Jefferson than all the other slave owners of the period who also fathered children with slaves simply because we expect more of him, the author of our Declaration of Independence. And we can acknowledge that falling out of love with a spouse happens all the time, often to otherwise kind, loving people, and the emotion and pain that go along with separation can lead to people saying or doing things that are out of character and surprisingly unloving. Then there are things, like physical abuse, that there can be no excuse for.
But in the end, we cannot know what our fallen heroes felt, suffered, or endured. While we can condemn the acts, we should not judge the actors. We should know better than to put too much faith into any human, as we are all flawed in our own ways. I think it is possible to admire and respect these men while simultaneously acknowledging their capacity for villainy – a capacity we all have given the right circumstances and triggers.
What do you think? Are there some crimes that are unforgivable in even the greatest of men and women? Are we naive to expect perfection from fallible humans?
 Ellis, Joseph. American Sphinx.
 Ellis, Joseph. Founding Brothers.
I saw a post about this on HelloGiggles, and I had to re-post it. The Smithsonian has a large collection of original experimental recordings from Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Lab. The discs are in poor condition now and are un-play-able, but historians have imaged them with a 3-D camera and have been able to digitize the recordings. That means we can now listen to these recordings – the very earliest sound recordings ever made. We can hear Alexander Graham Bell experimenting with voice recording. The disc played in this video clip even allows us to hear someone’s disappointed reaction when something clearly didn’t go as planned. View the clip here, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Through our own research, the Vicky A’s have come across a transcript of the first message sent to Chicago from New York at the opening of the first long distance line in 1892. The transcript contains only the New York side of the conversation and is reproduced below.
NY: Hello? Hello. This is Alexander Bell. Can you hear me?
NY: Wonderful! Hey, we expect to be here in the lab pretty late tonight, so can we get an extra large deep dish pizza?
NY: Yeah, sure, I love mushrooms. <Pause> Hold on, let me ask the guys.
NY: Hey, can we get half and half, mushrooms and pepperoni? Chichester is being a baby and doesn’t want mushrooms.
NY: Great, we’ll see you then.
Patrick Henry holds a special place in my heart for various reasons, but I am not sure how many people who are not from Virginia have even heard of him. Those of us who were lucky enough to be raised in this beautiful state memorized his great, “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” speech in grade school. Or maybe that was just my school. Patrick Henry gave that speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond. The church is still there, and they do re-enactments all summer. Doing a little research for this post, I discovered something I never knew, that his speech to the Virginia Convention that day, March 20, 1775, arguing in favor of Virginia drawing up militia troops and preparing to defend itself against the British, was never actually transcribed. The speech was re-created years later based on the memories of other men who were there to hear it. In THAT case, I think I should have gotten a bit more leniency in my grade when I flubbed a line in the middle because you can’t prove to me he didn’t say, “Is life so dear, or peace so neat…” With that caveat, I present to you the last part of the inspiring and timeless speech he (probably) gave that day. Yes, it was said specifically for the British colonies in the Americas years ago, but it could be said for any civilization at any time; Liberty is always worth fighting for.
…Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Since we love a good anachronism, we asked ourselves, if our Founding Fathers were around today what kind of music would they listen to? Here’s what we think they might enjoy:
George Washington – Country music or Bruce Springsteen. Both masculine and patriotic.
Alexander Hamilton – Pop/Rap. Rap is all about money and sex, so that seems right up Hamilton’s alley. I can also see him grooving to Justin Timberlake, Future Sex/Love Sounds. Alex definitely brought sexy back.
John Adams – Adult Contemporary. John was a bit too Puritanical for anything very edgy.
Thomas Jefferson – Anything French. Edith Piaf on lazy days, M83 or Phoenix when he wants something peppier. He would also be into experimental electronica, too. I am pretty sure he would be a hipster and like lots of weird bands John Adams has never heard of.
Benjamin Franklin – R&B/Soul. Al Green, Barry White, maybe R. Kelly – can’t you see him grooving to “Let’s Stay Together?”
Patrick Henry – Muse. Henry would definitely dig the passionate, revolutionary themes of this band’s songs.
Sam Adams – Rage Against the Machine. Because.
We hold this truth to be self-evident, that not all hotties are created equal. The Vicky A’s are over-stepping our bounds just a bit and dipping way back into history, before Queen Victoria, back to the end of Colonial America and the founding of our nation, the United States of America. This week, we will answer the timeless question, “Who is the Hottest Founding Father?” But Katherine, you may scoff, these men were great statesmen, diplomats, soldiers, and philosophers – it is shallow and silly to compare them on looks alone. To you I say, I have the greatest respect for the men who founded the nation in which I live. I love this country dearly, and I think the people who laid the political and legal foundations of this country were truly remarkable. Some of them were also pretty hot, so I say it’s about time for a little objectification – we women have been putting up with it, oh, FOREVER. So lighten up and let’s get to it!
First up, Thomas Jefferson!
Let me start by saying, I don’t understand this whole, “Make fun of gingers” thing – I think redheads are awesome. I have always been super-jealous of girls with vibrant red hair – I think it’s striking and beautiful. TJ was a redhead, and I love him all the more for it.
In addition to being a sexy Red, he did a few little things with his life like writing the Declaration of Independence, writing the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and founding the University of Virginia. Honestly, I could go on for a long time about TJ’s many talents and interests, but all you need to know is how good he looks in this painting. How can Ben Franklin concentrate on anything else with so much hotness in such close proximity?
Next is Alexander Hamilton. Have you ever stopped to look at a ten dollar
bill? I mean really look at it? Do it right now – take a minute to gaze
upon the visage of Mr. Hamilton and tell me that man isn’t a major hottie.
If he had been president, he would have been Babe-raham Lincoln. He was even acknowledged in his time as being a major looker. In fact, he gave this country one of its first political sex scandals. Oh yeah. Before he was in office, Hamilton had an affair with a married woman and blackmailed her husband to keep it a secret. This came to light during Washington’s administration, and Hamilton admitted to it and resigned. According to Wikipedia, the affair started when the woman came to him for help, claiming to be abandoned by her husband. She asked him for some money to get herself and child back to New York. This is what he had to say about the meeting, “I took the bill out of my pocket and gave it to her – Some conversation ensued from which it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.” Thus began a three-year long affair. Dang, Hammy!
Ben Franklin – Playa Plenipotentiary and Ambassador of Love
He’s not here because he’s good looking per se but because he was the
Pan-Global Mack of the Millenium. He went to France and got it on with
everyone. In what is now a classic letter, Franklin advised a friend on his choice of mistress, arguing that the man should choose an older woman rather than a younger one because:
1. There is no hazard of children
B. They are more discreet
4. Since people walk upright, the body parts up top fade and sag more quickly than…lower parts. So an old woman looks just like a young woman “below the Girdle.” (I AM SERIOUS HE SAID THIS)
Plus he invented bifocals and lightning.
I feel like this could be a picture of a young Tommy Lee Jones. John Marshall was one of the first Supreme Court Justices, and he was incredibly influential in the development of the American legal system. He also served as John Adams’s Secretary of State. He is so handsome and stately in his old age…
Next up is James Madison — he was a major player in the creation of the Constitution, wrote the Bill of Rights, and helped write the Federalist Papers. He served as Jefferson’s Secretary of State before becoming president himself.
Ignore the hair on this next photo. He actually kind of looks like a vampire here with that crazy widow’s peak, but if you focus on the face, he’s pretty good looking.
So who is your fave? I know this list does not include all of the Founding Fathers, but I’m not sure I would classify the others as hotties. His Rotundity John Adams just doesn’t do it for me, but feel free to fight for General Washington’s right to eternal hottie-dom in the comments!
First, the Colonists bought lots of things from England, but England charged them taxes on those things without them having a chance to participate in the government. Sam Adams didn’t like that.
Sam Adams didn’t like a lot of things. In protest, the Colonists had the least fun tea party ever (which I refer to as the Boston Massacre) at which no tea was actually drunk but defenseless cases of tea were thrown mercilessly into the ocean. At least they got to wear costumes. (Note to self: Next time, have a Boston-Tea-Party-themed tea party?)
After that, some people were like, “Maybe we should be independent, guys.” So they all got together for the Continental Congress to decide what to do and how best to stop the continued loss of innocent tea. When they got to the Congress, the Massachusetts reps thought they were the hottest, but they were wrong. The Virginians were the hottest.
The Continental Congress got together a poopload of times. There was a lot of this from South Carolina.
And a lot of this from Massachusetts.
John Adams decided they needed to write down their feelings, so he asked Thomas Jefferson to write a Declaration of Independence.
They liked it!
But they still had to vote on it. Eventually, everyone agreed to declare independence. Then they had to announce to the general populace that they had basically just signed them all up for war.
Then there was a lot of fighting for a couple of years. Luckily for them, Ben Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were all in Europe pretty much the whole time.
Not long after that, they all went back to the new independent states. It was time to elect a President. George Washington did not want this job.
But they made him President anyway, because he was the man. His one rule was that he didn’t want political parties in his administration. That didn’t work out too well.
In the end, President Washington served two terms before stepping down and allowing a new President to be elected. You know those before and after pictures they show of President Obama from 2008 to now? This is what GW looked like before and after his two terms.
That was a rough 8 years, but he made it and so did the rest of the country thanks to our Founding Fathers!
All still images from HBO’s John Adams miniseries. Mouse over images for gif credits.
I was having afternoon tea with my family on Saturday when I reminded them that a certain important President’s birthday was honored on this day. We all raised our teacups to Thomas Jefferson, born on April 13th, 1743
ten days after my own birthday ahem. He holds a special place in my heart for reasons that are known to many. I don’t need to bore you with a retelling of his intellectual genius and pursuits, his skill as a writer and in languages, his ability and passion as an architect, his love of France, his complex political ideology, and the continuing controversy over his views and actions where slavery is concerned. I recommend excellent books by Joseph J. Ellis (American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation), his own collected writings, and The Adams-Jefferson Letters, which contains the complete correspondence between TJ and John and Abigail Adams (I stopped just short of calling them The Adams Family. Aren’t you proud of me?) for further study on this complex, passionate, and remarkable man.
Let’s talk about wine instead.
One might argue that never was there a greater — and more fraught — love affair than between Thomas Jefferson and wine. TJ has been called America’s “first distinguished viticulturist,” and “the greatest patron of wine and wine growing that this country has yet had” and I love him all the more for it. He traveled extensively to various wine regions in France and Germany (particularly the areas of Rhone, Bordeaux, Languedoc, Provence, and the Rhine and Mosel Valleys) where he further indulged his love for good food and wine. There’s even an Emmy-award winning movie, The Cultivated Life, about Jefferson and his wine endeavors.
Whenever I can on my way back from my Alma mater in Charlottesville, I pop by Barboursville Vineyards for a wine tasting and tour. The estate house was designed by Jefferson, one of only three residences that he designed for his friends, and their signature wine, Octagon, bears his design. Their knowledge of wine, and indeed of Jefferson and his wine-making and cultivating, is second-to-none; I could stop and listen all day to their knowledgeable experts. It was on one of these tours that I learned of Jefferson’s numerous attempts to cultivate old-vine European wines in VA to no success.
In 1774, he established two vineyards at Monticello in partnership with Philip Mazzei (who had originally traveled to work with Adams to establish the first commercial vineyard near Adams’ home in Augusta County…until TJ stole the guy from him and convinced Mazzei to establish said vineyard adjacent to Monticello instead. Oops? Sorry, not sorry, BFF?) but was ultimately thwarted in success thanks to a nasty little bug called phylloxera, a type of louse, that destroyed most of the vines and had been responsible in the past for destroying most of the vines in Europe and bringing wine production to its knees. It was only through grafting and hybridization that wine survived and without the American rootstock, there would be no Vitis vinifera (or common grape-vine) wine in Europe today! So, thanks, TJ, for your failures; they might have proved the salvation of the wine industry to this day. Unfortunately, Jefferson and Mazzei’s vineyards were never able to produce a drinkable wine in the 1700’s due to complications with climate, mildew, phylloxera, etc.; even so, Jefferson’s fascination and experimentation with viticulture is documented up until 3 years prior to his death. Today, Jefferson Vineyards produces between 4,000 and 8,000 cases annually.
In addition to his efforts at viticulture, he was also famous for having spent a hefty percentage of his income on wine. According to this brilliant post, Jefferson spent approximately “$3,200 per year on wine during his first term, which equates to roughly 13% of his annual salary.” Over the course of his lifetime, “Jefferson spent the equivalent of roughly $300,000 in today’s dollars on wine during his eight years at President.” Can we raise a glass to a man who has his priorities straight?
For an incredibly in-depth overview of Jefferson and his love of wine, I recommend reading John Hailman’s Thomas Jefferson on Wine and checking out this excellent series of posts from the wine blog Drink What You Like, which explores Jefferson’s involvement with wine in 30 posts in 30 days. Salud, dear Readers!