Monday, January 27, 2014

The Ups and Downs in the Life of a Distressed Gentleman - 1836
William L. Stone
230 pages
genre  -  Memoir
rating  -  2 out of 5 stars

Have you ever read a book where at the beginning you didn't know if it was going to be worthwhile to spend the time on it?  Such was the case when I started The Ups and Downs... 

The introduction is all about an ostrich, the importance of biographies, and an old Emperor from China.  Chapter 1 is about circles.  It's not until Chapter 2 that we meet the subject of the story. 

But somehow I was kept interested through long paragraphs, musings, digressions, and some great one-liners.  It is the one-liners that keeps this book from a one star rating.  Examples:

"...biography is history..."
"...somewhat questionable members of the piscatory family..."  (eels)
"Every patriotic Gothamite should rejoice at each successive indication of an improvement in architectural taste amongst us."

And the best for last:  "The reader has probably heard the story of the Yankee candidate for the mastership of one our common schools, who, on being asked by the inspectors whether he knew any thing of mathematics, answered that he didn't know Matthew, although he had seen a good deal of one Tom Mattocks, in Rhode Island; but he'd never hearn (sic) of his having any brother."

At the end of the book, the author assures us that "...every essential incident that I have recorded, actually occurred..."  I don't know if that's true, and if a Daniel Wheelwright really existed, but I'm glad I read the book.  I'm also glad it wasn't very long.

About the author  - 

William Leete Stone (20 April 1792  – 15 August 1844) was a journalist and historical writer mostly on topics relating to the American Revolutionary War.  His father, William, was a soldier of the Revolution and a descendant of Gov. William Leete.

At the age of seventeen, he became a printer in the office of the Cooperstown Federalist, and in 1813 he was editor of the Herkimer American. Subsequently he edited the Northern Whig, the Daily Advertiser, and the Hartford Mirror. He took a turn at editing a literary magazine called The Knights of the Round Table. He also edited The Lounger, a literary periodical which was noted for its pleasantry and wit. In 1821 he became editor of the New York Commercial Advertiser, which place he held for the rest of his life.

Brown University gave him the Master of Arts degree in 1825. Stone always advocated the abolition of slavery by congressional action.  He was the first superintendent of public schools in New York City.

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