Yet Wallace’s unlikely journey from disgraced general to celebrated author is as thrilling as any story of his era, and his fame in his own lifetime surpassed that of all but a handful of his comrades in arms. Few men participated so completely in the postbellum American experience. Wallace had a Zelig-like knack for insinuating himself into the defining moments of his day. A lawyer by training, he served on the tribunal that tried the Lincoln assassination conspirators and presided over the one that convicted Henry Wirz, the commandant of the notorious prison camp at Andersonville, Ga., and the only Confederate executed for war crimes. During the disputed election of 1876, the Republican Party sent Wallace to oversee the original Florida recount. For his role in delivering the White House to Rutherford B. Hayes, he was rewarded with the governorship of the New Mexico territory. The duties of office included putting down a range war in Lincoln County; among the combatants was William H. Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid. Initially charmed by the young gunslinger, Wallace once asked him for a demonstration of his marksmanship and was impressed by his handling of both six-shooter and rifle. He soon tired of the Kid’s homicidal antics, however, and put a $500 bounty on his head.
His role in the life and death of Billy the Kid earned Wallace a bit part in the dime novels that burnished the outlaw’s legend, but it was nothing compared to the celebrity his own novel brought him. He had begun the book in his native Indiana, writing in the shade of what would come to be known as the Ben-Hur beech, and would finish it in Santa Fe. At night, after he’d wound down the territory’s affairs, he would retreat to a dismal back room of the adobe governor’s palace and bar the doors and windows. Sitting at a rough pine table, he composed the novel’s eighth and final book by the light of a solitary lamp.
Wallace’s novel has since been eclipsed in the American imagination by a bronzed, bare-chested Charlton Heston, careening around the Holy Land in William Wyler’s 1959 film adaptation of Ben-Hur, which won a record 11 Academy Awards and was a blockbuster hit for MGM. But the book was wildly popular in its day, selling perhaps as many as a million copies in its first three decades in print. The story of the Jewish hero Judah Ben-Hur, whose life Wallace ingeniously intertwined with that of Jesus Christ, captivated readers despite winning little affection from contemporary critics, who found its romanticism passé and its action pulpy. On a visit to Boston, home of the literary old guard, Wallace noted with pique that William Dean Howells, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. all declined invitations to parties held in his honor. “Why did they not come?” he wrote to his wife Susan. “Would their presence have been too much of a sanction or endorsement for the wild westerner?”
Ben-Hur found admirers in other high places. Grant, who hadn’t picked up a novel in a decade, read Ben-Hur in a single, 30-hour sitting. President James A. Garfield, a former professor of literature, devoured it nearly as fast, stealing chapters between meetings. He woke at 5:30 one morning so he could finish it in bed. “With this beautiful and reverent book you have lightened the burden of my daily life,” he wrote to Wallace later that same day. Ben-Hur’s publisher, Harper & Brothers, soon produced a Garfield Edition, with the president’s letter reproduced as a foreword; the lavishly illustrated two-volume set sold for a then astronomical $30.
The novel’s readership wasn’t confined to Union veterans. In an Indiana newspaper, the historian S. Chandler Lighty discovered Varina Davis’ account of reading Ben-Hur aloud to her father “from 10 o’clock until daybreak, both of us oblivious to the flight of time.” Her father was Jefferson Davis, the former Confederate president. Men and women on both sides of the Mason-Dixon could enjoy Wallace’s tale of martial virtue set safely in the distant past and embrace its message of Christly compassion triumphing over Old Testament vengeance. The story of Ben-Hur’s success is, in part, the story of how Americans put the divisions of the war behind them in the waning days of Reconstruction.
Go read the whole thing. It’s an interesting read and I do recommend the novel Ben Hur itself as well.
I read Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur back in high school (on a lark) and I quite liked it. It is darker than the movie which makes the redemption even more moving. General Lew Wallace is a great story in his own right. Victor Davis Hanson writes in Ripples of Battle about his quest to redeem himself from his (real or perceived) shame at missing the first day at The Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War.
Floyd | Thursday, 28th of March 2013 at 05:27:43 PM
L’Osservatore Romano via Getty Images
“He *said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” 8 Peter *said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” 9 Simon Peter *said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” 10 Jesus *said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” John 13:6-11 NASB
Pope Francis I puts his own spin on the Maundy Thursday symbolic washing of the Disciples’ feet. From USA Today:
Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of a dozen inmates at a juvenile detention center in a Holy Thursday ritual that he celebrated for years as archbishop and is continuing now that he is pope. Two of the 12 were young women, a remarkable choice given that the rite re-enacts Jesus’ washing of the feet of his male disciples.
The Mass was held in the Casal del Marmo facility in Rome, where 46 young men and women currently are detained. Many of them are Gypsies or North African migrants, and the 12 selected for the foot-washing rite included Orthodox and Muslim detainees as well, news reports said.
Because the inmates were mostly minors — the facility houses inmates aged 14-to-21 — the Vatican and Italian Justice Ministry limited media access inside. But Vatican Radio carried the Mass live, and Francis told the detainees that Jesus washed the feet of his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion in a gesture of love and service.
“This is a symbol, it is a sign — washing your feet means I am at your service,” Francis told the youngsters. “Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty, as a priest and bishop I must be at your service.”
Later, the Vatican released a limited video of the ritual, showing Francis washing black feet, white feet, male feet, female feet and even a foot with tattoos. Kneeling on the stone floor as the 12 youngsters sat above him, the 76-year-old Francis poured water from a silver chalice over each foot, dried it with a simple cotton towel and then bent over to kiss each one.
The video is at the link. True religion is visiting and comforting the widow, the orphan and the inmate.
Floyd | Thursday, 28th of March 2013 at 12:01:24 AM
An abridged version of the World War 2 will also suffice, but in addition to being a statesman and politician par excellence, Churchill was an amazing writer. Sure his version of the War is self-serving in a lot of ways… that’s why we read more than one book on a subject. They simply do not make world leaders like this any more.
According to new data released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 19.7 million new venereal infections in the United States in 2008, bringing the total number of existing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the U.S. at that time to 110,197,000.
The 19.7 million new STIs in 2008 vastly outpaced the new jobs and college graduates created in the United States that year or any other year on record, according to government data. The competition was not close.
The STI study referenced by the CDC estimated that 50 percent of the new infections in 2008 occurred among people in the 15-to-24 age bracket. In fact, of the 19,738,800 total new STIs in the United States in 2008, 9,782,650 were among Americans in the 15-to-24 age bracket.
15-24? Isn’t that the “safe sex generation”? The generation raised on compulsory sex education and free condoms? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Outlaw13 | Wednesday, 27th of March 2013 at 03:00:40 PM
Have you ever heard of the Eagle Ford Shale Oil Field? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
From zero barrels a day in 2008 to nearly 400,000 a day in 2013.
The University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) released preliminary findings today for its second annual study of the impact of the Eagle Ford Shale on the Texas economy. In its first study for 2011, UTSA found that the oil and gas rush in South central Texas had an economic impact of $25 billion in the 20-county area, and supported 48,000 jobs in the oil and gas industry. But from 2011 to 2012, oil output in the Eagle Ford Shale nearly tripled from 128,000 barrels per day to 363,000 barrels per day, and that surge in oil production boosted the economic impact significantly according to UTSA’s new study for 2012.
Here are some of the preliminary findings of UTSA’s most recent estimates of the economic impact of the Eagle Ford Shale in 2012 (full report will be released on Thursday):
1. Total economic impact on the 20-county area: $61 billion, up from $25 billion in 2011
2. Number of jobs supported: 116,000, many in Texas counties that just five years ago were declining in population, up from 48,000 jobs in 2011.
3. Tax revenue in 2012: More than $1 billion in local government revenue and $1.2 billion in state tax revenue…
What makes the Eagle Ford Shale story so amazing is how fast development, investment, and production has taken place there. As the chart above illustrates, the Eagle Ford Shale oil boom didn’t even really start until 2011, and then oil output almost tripled in just a single year. Suddenly, Eagle Ford Shale became the “single largest oil and gas development in the world” last year and created an unexpected $61 billion economic “windfall” for Texas that came out of nowhere. One of the strongest reasons to be optimistic about America’s economic future is the energy revolution, which is best illustrated by the amazing job- and prosperity-creating shale formations of Eagle Ford in Texas, the Bakken in North Dakota and the Marcellus in Pennsylvania.