Poor Richard, The American Crisis, Believe It or Not, and National Hard Candy Day

Marley was dead, to begin with.  

Yes, I know what you’re thinking: how many loose screws does this guy have?  After all, there’s so much more that he could write about for 19 December, like the crowning of Henry II (1154), Valley Forge (1777), the Jacobs Creek mine (1907), the beginning of the Indochina war (1946), and so much else, and he starts with the first sentence from A Christmas Carol in Prose from the original Charles Dickens novella published on this day in 1843 and he settles for…this other stuff? Yeah, but this is my blog, and I don’t take requests.  So there.

In the 18th century almanacs were valuable sources of reference not just for farmers, but for anyone who had a watch.

In colonial America, there were many fledgling industries, one of which was printing. To create demand, among other things, they printed calendars and almanacs. On 19 December 1732 (Old Style), Benjamin Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanack, the first written and published regularly in America. Modern readers may have forgotten the humble almanac in the electronic age, if they ever knew them.  In the 18th century almanacs were valuable sources of reference not just for farmers, but for anyone who had a watch.  The lunar celestial tables, with moon and sunrise for a given day, was the only reliable way to know, at a given latitude and longitude, what the time was.  It also included dates for planting, Franklin’s famous sayings and bon mots, and other familiar features of almanacs that were printed well into the 20th century. Poor Richard’s was published for 25 years, ending in 1757.  Parts of it was reprinted in Britain in broadside form, was adopted by Napoleon in 1797 for use in his Cisalpine Republic, and was the first English language book to be translated into Slovene.

Part I of The American Crisis was published on 19 December 1776, and read to Washington’s army on 23 December, three days before their surprising triumph over the Hessians at Trenton.

Just a few decades later, Franklin was an agent (at the time, what stood for an ambassador) of Pennsylvania in France, and America was locked in a war with Great Britain.  An American firebrand named Thomas Paine (publishing under the pseudonym Common Sense) penned a series of polemical treatises that he called The American Crisis,  that opened with the famous lines “These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Paine, like many pamphleteers, was trying to raise the morale of the American soldiers freezing in their camps that had been beaten at every turn by the British Army and their Hessian allies.  Part I of The American Crisis was published on 19 December 1776, and read to Washington’s army on 23 December, three days before their surprising triumph over the Hessians at Trenton.  The American Crisis was published in sixteen parts, the last in 1783, and from the first to the last it was enormously popular not just in America, but on the Continent, as well, especially France.

In October 1919, as his artwork and collection of odd facts about everything including sports gained in popularity, Ripley changed the name to “Believe It Or Not.”

But that crisis passed, and America became the Land of the Weird and the Home of the Strange. Af if to emphasize this phenomenon, a cartoonist named Robert L. Ripley first published his “Champs and Chumps” one-panel strip in the New York Globe on 19 December 1918, citing odd facts about the sporting world. In October 1919, as his artwork and collection of odd facts about everything including sports gained in popularity, Ripley changed the name to “Believe It Or Not.” Ripley’s syndicated strip was an entree to many famous cartoonists, and has since morphed into a global enterprise with museums, books, radio programs, theatrical short subjects, television programs, a pinball machine, a web site, an internet-based game, numerous imitators and satirists.

Hard candy has been around since the domestication of the sugar cane.

For reasons known only to the gods of calendars,  19 December is National Hard Candy Day in the United States, the one country in the world that can afford it.  Hard candy of all descriptions is pure sugar with various flavorings, and come in as many forms as there have been innovators at any confection. Hard candy has been around since the domestication of the sugar cane.  They are thought to be a development of “honied” nuts and fruits in ancient Egypt (honey, like hard candy, needs no preservation or special storage). From Medieval times, cooks have known how to boil sugar, flavor and mold it into sheets, cubes, rolls, rings and balls.  Hard candies of all kinds became a mass-market, manufactured product as the Market Revolution of the early 1800s fixed prices and increased availability of consumer goods. At this time of year the candy cane is the most popular form in the US and Europe, but the lollipop is the most popular year-round.

And, finally, because it comes out on Monday, this blog will likely be silent for a couple of weeks, unless I get inspired to write about something momentous, odd, infuriating or otherwise worth my time.  I wish a safe and blessed Christmas and New Year, Kwanzaa and whatever other holiday you celebrate at the end of the year to all four of my regular readers, and to anyone else bored enough to reach the end of this week’s entry.  As Dickens had Tiny Tim say: God bless us, everyone.

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