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October 30, 2003

Sid Says: A Great Ancestor Would be All Right If So Many Outsiders Didn't Butt In

The October 1915 American Magazine was the first published under the aegis of John M. Siddall. The first Sid Says, an appeal for women's suffrage, appeared in the November issue. It's the fourth essay in Siddall's book, so it should appear tomorrow, barring turbulence in the life stream.

I know this because I discovered an entire run of the American Magazine in Davis Library on the UNC campus this morning. I only had time for a quick glance at the first two issues published under Siddall; neither had much in the way of biographical information--surprising to the modern eye. Nowadays a change in editor at a major magazine occasions great comment in the press. Tina Brown is to blame, I expect.

It's a slow slog, but I've managed so far to run across new tidbits of information about Mr. Siddall each day without having to start emailing random Siddalls to ask about a connection, though I suspect that will come soon enough.

The photo in the first post, for instance, was taken by Arnold Genthe, a German Immigrant and acclaimed photographer around the turn of the century. It now resides in the Library of Congress, along with a number of other examples of Genthe's work, like this one of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Aside from the mildly distressing lack of Siddall information within them, the bound issues of The American Magazine in Davis are a treasure trove. Each are chock full of ads, portraits, and essays from one of the least studied, most forgotten eras of American History, the pre WWI years. The cover art alone is stunning. Aside from "Remember the Maine", "Bully!" and the McKinley assassination, most people would have difficulty recalling the era from 1890 to 1917, though some might have a vague memory of trust-busting, Gibson girls and the muckrakers.

Had I the money and the time, I'd like to scan the pages of every issue of the American from that time up until....well, sometime in the 30's at this point, since copyright would kick in at some point. Then I could start on McClure's, or the Saturday Evening Post.

I've no idea why I have this compulsion to pour the textual equivalent of raw materials into the gaping maw of the Internet-- it just feels like something that needs doing. There's no other reason I can think of to explain what I'm doing, other than the need to document a native curiosity, when it comes to John M. Siddall, who at best is a minor, minor figure in American Literature.

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A Great Ancestor Would be All Right If So Many Outsiders Didn't Butt In
By John M. Siddall, circa 1915

A man tackled me for a job the other day. After enumerating his various accomplishments he wound up with a final claim that was intended to impress me with his importance once and for all. He said that he was a direct descendant of Bishop Ump-t-ump—the most learned man of his time in England. I asked what time that was, and he said that it was about four hundred years ago. I told him that—allowing twenty-five years for each generation— he must be the sixteenth descendant. "No, not the sixteenth," he said, "but the fifteenth." "All right," I said, "call it the fifteenth. Now let's take a sheet of paper and see what your credentials really are. Let's see—you had one father and one mother, two grandfathers and two grandmothers, four great-grandfathers and four great-grandmothers, eight great-great-grandfathers and eight great-great-grandmothers—and so on."

Carrying the multiplication back to the fifteenth preceding generation I showed that at the time the bishop lived, my friend, the applicant, had exactly 32,768 ancestors. In other words, the bishop was only one of the 32,768 human beings who were his forebears at that time.

"You have mentioned the bishop, but what about the other 32,767?" I asked.
"It seems to me that I ought to hear something about them if I am to judge you by the good blood which you say is in you. The bishop was all right. You are lucky to have as much of him in you as you have. But the bishop's stock has been considerably watered. I don't believe he would recognize you. What about the rest?"

That is the trouble with this heredity game—if you carry it back very far. Old Mother Nature is a wonderful leveler. Apparently her idea is to carry the race forward together, and not to play favorites. She won't let geniuses or boneheads breed in a straight line. To the weak she frequently gives a child of incredible talent—to keep the neighbors from getting abusive. To the brilliant and favored of the earth she often presents a choice piece of ivory in the shape of a dull son. If Nature didn't protect the rest of us in this manner, it wouldn't be long until we would all be working for one family, made up entirely of giants.

Another feature of the scheme is that it keeps us all interested. Surprises abound on all sides. There is no telling where the next worldbeater and the next dunce are coming from.

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Next: Let's Break Away from Granddaddy

Posted by Bigwig at October 30, 2003 12:32 PM | TrackBack
Postscript:
First time visitor to House Hraka? Wondering if everything we produce could possibly be as brilliant/stupid/evil/pedantic/insipid/inspired as the post you just read? Check out the Hraka Essentials, the (mostly) reader-selected guide to Hraka's best posts, and decide for yourself.
Comments

Martin Sheen - Charlie Sheen

Joe Kennedy - John F. Kennedy

George Bush - George Bush

I rest my case.

Posted by: Blackavar at October 30, 2003 02:05 PM
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