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Burning of the Library of Congress, 1814

2018-08-17T23:27:37+00:00August 20, 2018|HH 2018|

“My son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.” —Ecclesiastes 12:12-13

Burning of the Library of Congress,
August 24, 1814

The Library of Congress is the largest book repository in the world, with more than one hundred million books as well as another sixty million other items, in four hundred fifty languages. These holdings take up about 838 miles of shelves. Some 22,000 new items are added every day. The history of the library is unquiet — Congress almost rejected the idea altogether in the beginning and once it became established, certain legislators borrowed books and never returned them, perhaps practicing for when the income tax became constitutional. Occasional storage disasters ensued, as well as several major fires which consumed many thousands of books and manuscripts. The first great conflagration was set on purpose August 24, 1814 by troops of the United Kingdom.

Main reading room at the Library of Congress

British Major-General Robert Ross (1766-1814)

Robert Ross was present at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801 which expelled Napoleon’s army from Egypt

British Major General Robert Ross, a Scots-Irish veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, had been promoted to his new rank and given command of all the British troops in the eastern United States during the War of 1812. An aggressive, combat-experienced soldier, Ross determined to seize the U.S. Capitol, and was ordered to punish the Americans for their burning of York in Canada (now Toronto). General Ross landed his troops on August 16, many of them fresh from the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The American forces were commanded by General William H. Winder, who was promised about 22,000 militia and regulars by Congress, but in the end could only muster about 7,000, many of them positioned to defend Baltimore, most of them militia. Their defeat by about 4,000 British regulars at Bladensburg, Maryland on August 24 was “the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms” in the war. The inexperienced American troops caused more casualties among the enemy than what they received, but in the end, ran like sheep and scattered like doves. Their defeat uncovered Washington, D.C.

William H. Winder (1775-1824), General in the U.S. Army during the War of 1812

Rear-Admiral George Cockburn (1772-1853)

President James Madison remained with the troops at the beginning, but was forced to abandon the city, taking whatever archives could be packed out in time. His wife Dolley saved the famous portrait of George Washington that hung in the President’s home, as well as the autograph copy of the Declaration of Independence. General Ross was reluctant to fire the Capitol but Admiral Cockburn had no such qualms. The British troops put to the torch the unfinished Capitol building, where the Library of Congress was housed. They also burned down the Presidential Mansion, the Treasury building, the Arsenal and the Army Barracks, and all other public buildings but the Patent Office.

The burning of Washington, D.C.

Ruins of the U.S. Capitol

Ruins of the Presidential Mansion

The U.S. Treasury Building in 1804

The U.S. Patent Office (1802-1836)

After the War ended, Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library for sale to Congress, more than 6,400 volumes. It was one of the most eclectic and useful collections of books in North America. Congress passed a resolution to purchase the collection, thus reinstating what would eventually become the greatest repository of books in the world. Ironically, most of the Yale and Harvard graduates in Congress voted against it, perhaps due to their hatred of Jefferson, or their hope that their Alma Mater libraries would remain the largest in America.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

On Christmas Eve, 1851, a faulty chimney flue started another fire in the Library, consuming about 35,000 volumes, including two-thirds of Jefferson’s original collection. Congress immediately paid for the replacement of Jefferson’s volumes. The current library collection is housed in five different buildings and now includes newspapers, Hollywood films, documents, and other artifacts. The magnificent Jefferson Building in the Beaux Arts style, built in the early 1890s, is a stunning display of the literary genius and symbolic opulence of American architecture that almost overwhelms visitors today.

The special exhibits feature Jefferson’s collection, ancient maps, and, currently, World War I memorabilia, among other artifacts of history and Americana.

Aerial view of the Library of Congress with Thomas Jefferson Building in the foreground and John Adams building top-right

On display in the foyer is one of the three perfect copies in the world of the Gutenberg Bible. God chose to reveal himself in words, encoded in books. Though billions of books have perished since the first scrolls came into existence after the universal flood, the Word of God has never, and will never, pass away. It is no wonder that the Bible collection at the Library of Congress and the Bible Museum in Washington, D.C. are among the most popular stops on Americans’ pilgrimages to the Capitol of our nation.

Gutenberg Bible at the Library of Congress

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James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary, 1879

2018-08-13T18:28:43+00:00August 13, 2018|HH 2018|

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” —Philippians 4:8

James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary
August 14, 1879

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines more than a half million words and it took more than seventy years to research and write the original “twelve tombstone-size volumes.” It is the gold standard of the English language. On August 14, 1879, Scottish polymath James Murray was given the go-ahead by the Philological Society of England to begin the work of tracing the history of every single word in the English language and providing a definition faithful to its meaning. As the editor of the OED, he had the task of finding all the words as used in classical and standard written works in English. His historical starting point was the year 1150 AD.

Denholm, birthplace of James Murray, is located in the Scottish Borders Council Area

Murray was a “self-educated country boy” from the Scottish Borders village of Denholm. He had to leave school at fourteen for lack of funds, but he continued learning on his own, with a special interest in etymology — “He was captivated by words and strange languages.” Murray mastered Spanish, French, Catalan, Italian and Latin and, “to a lesser degree”, Portuguese, Vaudois, and Provençal, as well as other various dialects. He also acquired a working knowledge of Gaelic, Dutch, German, Danish, Slavonic and Russian. He knew Hebrew and Syriac well enough to sight read the Old Testament and picked up to a lesser degree Coptic, Phoenician and Arabic. He taught school and worked in a bank as an administrator in London, but his real passion was language.

James Murray lived in this Oxford home on Banbury Road from 1885-1915

By 1879, at the age of forty-two, James Murray began his real life’s work creating the Oxford English Dictionary. All eleven of his children lived to maturity and they, his wife, and eventually, grandchildren all helped in the project. He was permitted to use an iron shed on the property of the school where he taught, which he had outfitted with a thousand pigeon-holed rack to hold the quotations slips for the words. Before long, the “scriptorium” was ready and the project was begun. Through the Philological Society he issued An Appeal to the English-Speaking and English-Reading Public in Great Britain, America and the British Colonies, asking for a thousand readers for the next three years to supply him with good quotations, thus determining how various English words were used over the centuries. They were to avoid Bible Concordances, Shakespeare, and Edmund Burke — sources already combed.

James Murray stands in the Scriptorium

Dictionary slips and their sorting became a major part of life for the Murray family. People from all over the world sent in slips with the desired information. Several sub-editors and the children sorted through them and into the pigeon holes they went. One of Murray’s sons provided 27,000 quotations on his own, according to the introduction in the first volume. The entire story is amazing — the perseverance, erudition and dedication of Murray became legendary, as did some of the characters that sent in quotes. One of the best, most erudite and apparently brilliant contributors turned out to be a murderer from America, locked up in a prison for the criminally insane in England! (As recounted in The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester).

Seven of the twelve volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary

After reading all the quotations sent in for a particular word, Murray would write the “concise, scholarly, accurate, and lovingly elegant definition for which the Dictionary is well known.” The task was enormously difficult but for thirty-five years Murray stuck to it till the day of his death. Although he died in 1915 — thirteen years before the OED was first published — the patient drudgery of the devout Scotsman paid off with twelve mighty volumes of more than 400,000 words and more than 1.8 million illustrative quotations. The OED remains the unparalleled standard of definitions for every English word, and is, of course, added to every year. The magnificent story of this singular Christian lexicographer was finally told by Murray’s granddaughter K.M. Elizabeth Murray in Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary (1977).

Words have meaning, but when a culture redefines the fixed understanding of words, demagogues take advantage of the uncertainty and chaos that results, to change the culture itself. We must be wary of the malleable ways that enemies of the original intent of words, deconstruct meaning, to the destruction of morality and truth.

The Birth of Herbert Hoover, 1874

2018-08-06T22:01:45+00:00August 6, 2018|HH 2018|

“But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’” —Luke 10: 33-35

The Birth of Herbert Hoover, August 10, 1874

Bertie was declared dead by his distraught father, at the age of 2, having suffered from the croup, turned purple, and had no discernable heartbeat. His uncle, Dr. John Minthorn, came in the door and worked desperately on the child. He coughed and recovered. Providence had many grand purposes for the boy whose life lasted eighty-eight more years. Probably the least of his accomplishments was service as the 31st President of the United States.

Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) in 1877 at age 3

Dr. HJ Minthorn (1846-1922)

Born into a humble family in a Quaker farming community in Iowa, Herbert Hoover’s father died when he was six and his mother just after Herbert turned eight. Taken care of by relatives, the precocious boy learned hard work, prayer and honesty in a community dominated by the Quaker values of the community. He read the Bible cover to cover by the time he was ten. His uncles in Iowa sent the orphaned lad, at the age of eleven, to live with his uncle John Minthorn in Newburg, Oregon, whose only son had recently died. In Oregon, Herbert learned math, typing and bookkeeping in night school since there would be no high school education for him. He was a voracious reader and autodidact.

The Hoover–Minthorn House in Newberg, Oregon where Herbert lived from 1885-1891 with John and Laura Minthorn

Herbert Hoover, age 23, in Australia
Hoover was accepted into the first class of the newly formed Stanford University, and in four years of perseverance and excellence in all endeavors, he graduated number one in his class. As a man trained in the newest techniques of mining engineering, he accepted a job offer in Australia. Over the next eighteen years of his life Herbert Hoover became the greatest mining engineer in the world, organizing coal, tin, gold, and silver mines in Australia, Thailand, China, Wales, the Transvaal, New Zealand, West Africa, Nevada, Canada, Egypt and elsewhere. His employees began calling him “The Chief” at the age of twenty-three. When his career as a mining engineer came to a close in 1914, at the age of forty, more than one million people were employed in his enterprises. His greatest partners and joy in business and life were his wife Lou and their children.

Stanford in its inaugural year, 1891

Lou Henry at age 17 in California (1874-1944)

Herbert Hoover was in London when the First World War began. Two hundred thousand Americans were stranded in Europe. The banks of England would no longer accept cheques, and transport to America for civilians dried up quickly. The American ambassador asked Hoover for help. The engineer, a master organizer, accepted the challenge and mobilized his personal resources, human and capital, and got the people to America. Little could he have known that he would spend the rest of his life in public service and philanthropic endeavors. Not only did he get all the Americans home, he took on the greatest humanitarian project since time began.

Herbert Hoover in 1917 during WWI

With the success of the German armies in Europe, millions of people were caught behind the lines and faced starvation — especially the women and children of Belgium and France. Hoover established a relief commission to feed those people for the next four years. He became the only man in the world who was unrestrained by national boundaries. He got both the Allies and the Central Powers to let him get the millions of tons of grain and supplies through the war zones. He purchased all the surplus grain in the United States, shipped it on vessels he acquired, and mobilized his “Hoover men” and a volunteer staff of “the five hundred most capable people in the world.” As might be expected of this “largest private relief operation in history,” it required infinite patience, perseverance, imagination and fortitude. Hoover had it all in abundance. When the war ended, he stayed on the job until 1920, for the starvation did not end in 1918, and now included Germany, Austria and Hungary.

Poster requesting clothing for occupied Belgium and France

The Committee for Relief in Belgium (CRB) — of which Hoover was chairman — in Lille, France during WWI

Hoover’s inauguration as President at the U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1929

Following the war, Hoover was active in Republican politics in America and was elected to the Presidency after serving in cabinet office. One year into his term, the stock market crashed (1929) and he received all the blame for it. In 1932 Franklin Roosevelt became president and vilified and lied about Hoover for the next fifteen years. FDR’s interpretation of Hoover became the standard fare for America’s textbooks.

Herbert Clark Hoover (1874-1964)

Herbert wrote thirty books on subjects like liberty, free enterprise, and foreign policy, as well as his private memoirs. Like all men, Herbert Hoover was far from perfect and is especially faulted by libertarians for trying to use executive and government powers to stem the Depression. But upon his death, the poor Quaker boy from Iowa was hailed as the man who saved millions of lives in the Great War.

Lafayette Becomes a General, 1777

2018-07-30T17:30:46+00:00July 30, 2018|HH 2018|

“A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.” —Proverbs 17:17

Lafayette Becomes a General, July 31, 1777

If ever a young man was born to a heroic past and military tradition, Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was that man. His father served as a Colonel of grenadiers, falling in an artillery barrage in the Battle of Minden. Men on both sides of his family rose to the heights of martial glory in centuries past, as crusaders and patriots; fearlessness seemed to pass through the generations of Lafayettes in the blood stream. None of them, however, have been remembered to the extent of the young Marquis of the American War for Independence, who received a commission as Major General by the Continental Congress on the last day of July 1777. He was not yet twenty years old.

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834)

The young Marquis inherited the fortunes of his parents, grandparents and at least one uncle, making him one of the wealthiest noblemen of France. His course had been set by his great-grandfather who helped raise him — he would serve in the military traditions of his family. At the age of thirteen he was commissioned in the Musketeers and presented himself to King Louis XVI. He married the fourteen-year-old daughter of a Duke when he was sixteen — a marriage that would lovingly endure for thirty-three years and produce four children, one named George Washington.

Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles (1759-1807), wife of the Marquis

American Congressman, patriot, and secret agent in France, Silas Deane, promoted the cause of independence among French aristocrats and military officers in 1776, offering military commissions to men who were willing to fight. Lafayette possessed a strong antipathy to Britain and a love of liberty that coincided with the Americans’ pursuit of independence; Deane promised the young nobleman the command of a division if he would travel to America. Despite resistance by family, King, and friends, the headstrong young officer purchased a ship and sailed to the sound of the guns of George Washington.

Silas Deane (1738-1789) served as first foreign diplomat from the US to France

Lafayette’s arrival in Philadelphia had been preceded by many unworthy men sent over by Deane. Looking for high pay and preferment, and not speaking any English, those recruits put Congress in the difficult position of rejecting their offers. Lafayette, on the other hand, offered to serve without pay, showed his Masonic credentials, and made great efforts to speak in English (within a year he was fluent). Congress decided to award him with a Major General rank, without giving him any troops to command. The young warrior showed up at General Washington’s headquarters full of fight and willingness to serve in any capacity. In September he was put to the test as a member of Washington’s staff in the Battle of Brandywine.

First meeting of Washington and Lafayette in Philadelphia, August 3, 1777

Lafayette rallied the troops and fought in the front line, receiving a wound that incapacitated him for two months. Upon his return, he was given command of a division in Washington’s army and he suffered through the Valley Forge winter, and fought with distinction in numerous skirmishes and battles in the following years. In 1779 he returned to France and used his influence to get a commitment for French troops to sail to America to fight alongside Washington. Upon his return to the war, Lafayette received a new division; he spent lavishly from his own wealth outfitting them. In 1781 Lafayette was given independent command and was sent by Washington to Virginia to fight against the traitor Benedict Arnold. In September of that year, the Continental Army and the French forces under General Rochambeau joined Lafayette’s troops in Virginia to trap Lord Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown.

French nobleman and general Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau (1725-1807), played a major role in America’s struggle for independence

The Marquis de Lafayette is wounded at the battle of Brandywine

With the end of the war, Lafayette returned to France a hero of both nations. He helped Thomas Jefferson negotiate trade treaties and rose among the highest military ranks of France. Congress took a risk promoting an inexperienced but confident young man devoted to the cause and eager to prove himself. As providence would have it, George Washington loved Lafayette as a son and a man he could count on, who always obeyed orders and never disappointed the confidence placed in him.

Washington (left) and Lafayette (right) at Valley Forge

The young French aristocrat forged a bond between France and the United States that lasted more than one hundred fifty years. The endurance of this bond was well illustrated in a July 4, 1917 speech delivered in Paris at Lafayette’s grave by Colonel Charles E. Stanton upon America’s entering WWI and coming to the aid of a war-weary France:

“The fact cannot be forgotten that your nation was our friend when America was struggling for existence… that France in the person of Lafayette came to our aid in words and deed. It would be ingratitude not to remember this, and America defaults no obligations… America has joined forces with the Allied Powers, and what we have of blood and treasure are yours. Therefore it is that with loving pride we drape the colors in tribute of respect to this citizen of your great republic. And here and now, in the presence of the illustrious dead, we pledge our hearts and our honor in carrying this war to a successful issue. Lafayette, we are here!”

Col. Stanton addresses the citizens of Paris at Lafayette’s grave, July 4, 1917

Roanoke Colony Established, 1587

2018-07-25T00:10:24+00:00July 23, 2018|HH 2018|

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” — Isaiah 55:9

Roanoke Colony Established, July 22, 1587

Connecting the providential skeins of ideas can lead to the very practical results of how God caused history to flow. In the midst of the sixteenth century, a sixteen-year-old Englishman visited his lawyer-cousin of the same name, Richard Hakluyt, at the “Middle Temple” of the Inns of Court in London. There on his cousin’s table he saw for the first time “certaine books of Cosmographie, with an universall Mappe.” His cousin, the lawyer, pointed out the maps of the world as then understood — its peoples, geography, and trade routes. He then opened a Bible to Psalm 107 “where I read, that they which go downe to the sea in ships, and occupy by the great waters, they see the works of the Lord, and his wonders of the deepe.” Hakluyt (“the younger”) was instantly hooked on exploration, and he changed the world.

Richard Hakluyt (1553-1616)

World map illustration from Petrus Apianus, Cosmographie, 1581


From the visit to his cousin, Hakluyt completed his studies in London and was ordained as a minister in the Church of England. His passion, however, did not stop at preaching the Word of God. In time, he translated books of exploration from several countries, especially those of England’s mortal enemy, Spain. He embarked on a personal crusade to persuade England to join the race to transplant Christian civilization in the New World — establish trade routes, evangelize the natives, discover new lands and people on behalf of English Protestantism.

Sir Walter Raleigh, from “an ancient family, but penniless,” agreed with the goals expressed by Hakluyt and gathered investors to fund expeditions to the New World. Historian Paul Johnson described Raleigh as a “proto-American . . . energetic, brash, hugely ambitious, money-conscious, none too scrupulous, far-sighted and ahead of his time, with a passion for the new and, not least, a streak of idealism which clashed violently with his overwhelming desire to get on and make a fortune.” Armed with a royal charter issued by Queen Elizabeth I, permitting him to explore, colonize, and rule “any remote and barbarous lands, countries, and territories not actually possessed by any Christian prince,” Raleigh sponsored successive expeditions to America. The second one, in 1587, included entire families of Englishmen who beached on the outer banks of what one day would become North Carolina — a colony known as Roanoke.

Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)

Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)

Under the leadership of Governor John White, about 115 settlers landed to begin building an English colony. White returned to England to obtain reinforcements and extra food, determined to make the plantation survive. Spain, the great rival who dominated the oceans and was dedicated to the extirpation of the Protestant heretics, sent an Armada in 1588 to overwhelm England. White’s return expedition to the Roanoke Colony faced another two-year delay after the destruction of the Spanish Armada. When they finally arrived back on the outer banks, they found the new colony had disappeared. Frantic to find their countrymen, the English explorers discovered only the cryptic word CROATOAN carved on a tree. The expedition returned to England empty-handed. Raleigh’s experiment had failed.

English explorers discover cryptic word CROATOAN carved on a tree

Virginea Pars map, including Roanoke Island, drawn by John White during his first visit in 1585

There have been many theories and multiple explorations to find the “Lost Colony,” but none succeeded. For one theory and forensic investigation by National Geographic visit the National Geographic web site.

Richard Hakluyt continued to write and translate books, though he never went exploring himself. Every English expedition was required to carry a copy of his works detailing the proper methods for establishing a successful colony. Sir Walter Raleigh’s career included his popularizing the use of tobacco from the New World, his authorship of a History of the World, poetry, and other works, as well as his arrest and imprisonment during the reigns of both Elizabeth and James I, who eventually had him beheaded, after dubious charges. The capital of North Carolina is named after him.

The baptism of Virginia Dare (b. August 18, 1587, d. unknown), member of the Roanoke Colony, granddaughter to Governor John White, and first English child born in the Americas

Although the Roanoke Colony was never found, the English persisted until the first permanent plantation stuck at Jamestown in Virginia in 1607, Hakluyt’s and Raleigh’s dreams come true, but not in the way they had planned.