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Dickens’s Lost Portrait, How the Oracle at Delphi Was Found, and Remembering the Anti-Rent War

Why would someone pay over a million dollars for a Mona Lisa copy [1]? “Does the Leonardo madness show no sign of abating? In Sotheby’s recent New York Old Master sale, a copy of the Mona Lisa soared past its estimate of $80,000-$100,000 to sell for $1.69m. It seems extraordinary that someone would pay so much for a copy (in fact, that’s probably an auction record for any copy). Then there is the fact that the painting had been offered privately before the auction for considerably less, but with no takers.”

Why are young Americans trying to destroy the past [2]? “One, such attacks usually revealed a lack of confidence. The general insecurity of the present could supposedly be remedied by destroying mute statutes or the legacies of the dead, who could offer no rebuttal. The subtext of most current name changing and icon toppling is that particular victimized groups blame their current plight on the past. They assume that by destroying long-dead supposed enemies, they will be liberated — or at least feel better in the present… Two, opportunism, not logic, always seems to determine the targets of destruction… Stanford University has changed the name of two buildings and a mall that had been named for Father Junipero Serra, the heroic 18th-century Spanish founder of the California missions. Serra was reputed to be unkind to the indigenous people whom he sought to convert to Christianity. Stanford students and faculty could have found a much easier target in their war against the dead: the eponymous founder of their university, Leland Stanford himself…Yet it is one thing to virtue-signal by renaming a building and quite another for progressive students to rebrand their university — and thereby lose the prestigious Stanford trademark that is seen as their gateway to career advancement.”

How the Oracle at Delphi was found [3]: “Relying on clues from the past, a team of 19th-century archaeologists uncovered Delphi, the site where ancient Greeks asked questions, and Apollo answered them.”

The art of slow travel [4]: “ Explorers’ Sketchbooks, if titled prosaically, takes readers on a sublime 70-chapters trip around the world and through time. The showcased samples — drawings and facsimiles of journal pages — range from the era of caravels to that of space ships. Nutshell biographies accompany each entry, and the book’s pictorial smorgasbord and alphabetical organization invite nibbling rather than cover-to-cover consumption. Each morsel should be savored. Interludes by modern-day author-explorers like Wade Davis or Huw Lewis-Jones add contemplative angles and relevance.”

Lost Dickens portrait to go on display [5]: “The lost portrait of Charles Dickens, which was recently rediscovered after 130 years, is to go on display in his home in April.”

Essay of the Day:

In Granta, Jennifer Kabat revisits [6] New York’s Anti-Rent War:

“The more I read, the more I discovered the names of neighbors and people whose relatives I knew. If you walked up my land and continued to the ridge you would see the Searle’s farm on the other side. Lumen Searle wrote to Devyr, the chartist, at the Albany Freeholder praising a pamphlet Devyr penned that proclaimed equality would come from destroying the aristocracy. I also found Orson M. Allaben, who would sell Augustus Kittle the farm. Allaben and his brother Jonathan were both local doctors who gave anti-rent speeches to huge crowds.

“The anti-renters aligned with a group of radicals in Bushwick and Williamsburg called the National Reform Association. The organisation’s platform called for redistributing wealth by redistributing land. All settlers would get a smallholding. ‘Vote yourself a farm!’ emblazoned their banners. The Reformers stood for equal rights for women and abolishing slavery. They demanded a 10-hour workday and cooperatives where workers would band together to sell what they produced, each with a share in the proceeds, cutting out the middlemen, the capitalists, profiting off the poor.”

* * *

“From the start of 1845 the stakes rose. In January, New York’s governor outlawed disguises, and also made it illegal for groups of three or more to gather together in costume. Anyone who refused to help bring someone to justice, ‘is subject to a fine of two hundred and fifty dollars, or to imprisonment not exceeding one year, or to both.’

“The new law just emboldened the Calico Indians. People talked of wars fought and wars to come. ‘Don’t you see the ball a-rolling,’ Allaben said in one speech. It was a revolution – or a way of finishing the revolution of 1776. George Evans, brother of a pacifist Shaker Elder, called for change by ‘political action, or, in failure of that, by revolution.’ Allaben demanded a revolution at the ballot box, but said, ‘If the sheriff runs his head in a tar bucket, it’s not their (the Indians) fault.’ Devyr declared, ‘The gentlest means possible ought to be used. But, that failing, use the gentlest means that may be necessary.’

“The means were not particularly gentle in Delaware County. Pitched battles, neighbor against neighbor, were fought in the towns all around me. Calico Indians intimidated anyone on the landlords’ side. They’d attack acquaintances who delivered rent demands. In retaliation deputies rounded up suspected rebels and harassed their families. The Calico Indians attempted to break prisoners out of jail and kidnap officials. This was not peaceful resistance, and years later one participant said, ‘If the anti rent war had happened after the Civil War it would have been a war of blood.’”

Read the rest. [6]

Photos: Small wildcats [7]

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