Saturday, June 07, 2008

Franklin Pierce the Obscure


It probably has something to do with the fact that I am in my fourteenth hour of reading X-rays, CTs and ultrasounds on call today. I don't know how else to explain this post. I would do almost anything, read almost anything, Google almost anything to get away from the images of the huddled masses in the ERs and ICUs, yearning to have their brain hemorrhages, belly abscesses, and clotted veins diagnosed by yours truly. Actually, the afflicted have no idea who I am, nor will they ever, until they see my name on their bill, for radiologists labor for the most part in obscurity in front of computer monitors. So, for respite between cases, I have been surfing the web for material on the Marx brothers. They are cited as an area of interest in my Blogger profile, but I have not written about them yet. My search took me to David Holzel's zine The Jewish Angle, where he talks about being inspired by Groucho, and his plaster statue of Groucho, like the one I have.
In fact, I have plaster statues of Harpo and Chico as well. Harpo was a wedding present almost thirty-five years ago, and the other brothers were added soon after. From Holzel's site, I linked to The Franklin Pierce Pages, authored by Holzel, Benjamin Bratman, and Todd Leopold. Here, an unusual convergence of items from my recent posts occurred in Bratman's article "Wrested From the Jaws of Triviality." To wit:
Pierce had the peculiar distinction of having as vice president the only nationally elected American official ever to be sworn in on foreign soil. Pierce also had the peculiar distinction of having as vice president a man who never worked one day in the job. William Rufus de Vane King was terminally ill with tuberculosis when he was nominated and subsequently elected as vice president. (This begs the question, why was he selected?). He was sworn in in Cuba where he was seeking medical treatment. Less than a month later, he died, never having assumed his duties.
Ah ha! An example of the modern usage of "begs the question," which I had condemned in recent posts.

Also from Bratman's article:
Pierce’s salad days were clearly in college at Bowdoin College in Maine. There, he was a classmate of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who later became a writer and author of The Scarlet Letter, as well as one of Pierce’s closest friends and advisors.
Wow! Another of my newfound obsessions--Nathaniel Hawthorne! Bratman doesn't mention that Hawthorne wrote a campaign biography of his friend Franklin Pierce, and was rewarded with the American consulship to Liverpool after Pierce was elected. Hawthorne stayed at the post from 1853-57. Also of note, Hawthorne died on a trip to the White Mountains with Pierce in 1864.


Who knows, I may now become obsessed with Franklin Pierce. After all, writing about an obscure president (James Buchanan) paid off for John Updike in his play Buchanan Dying and his novel Memories of the Ford Administration.

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