See Attached: The Memo That Ran Away With the Memorial

This glimpse into the workings of my mind is brought to you by the makers of forgetfulness, short attention span, and obsession. . . . This afternoon, I was determined to pay tribute to Thomas Jefferson, born on this day, 13 April, in 1743—preferably by listening to an old radio play. As I remembered, and correctly at that, I had just the book in my library: the first of two volumes of plays written for the Cavalcade of America. It includes “Thomas Jefferson: Pioneer in Education,” a playlet by Edward Longstreth and Kenneth Webb (a recording of which you may find here). Yes, I remembered correctly. What I had quite forgotten was that, two years ago, I had already commented on this play and its politics in some detail. I might not have been able to concentrate on such a tribute anyhow. What fell out of the first Cavalcade volume was the memo pictured above. Dated 28 October 1940, it reads:

Miss Bickford:

Mr. McKay thought Mr. Little would be interested in reading some of the shows Mr. Longstreth has written.

A. Canning

Somehow, I could not stop my mind from spinning yarns. Who were these people? And why was this memo still left in the book, as if Miss Bickford had just put it aside, indifferent to the recommendation? The only familiar name was Mr. Longstreth’s, author of the Jefferson play. Hugh McKay, I gather, was an advertising executive (surmises backed up by this essay on television actor Gardner McKay), and A. Canning the playwright’s agent. Anyway, I did not get much further than that; but, boy, did I keep looking.

Some of the most enjoyable experiences writing broadcastellan are adventures in research, something I didn’t quite set out to do, something unexpected and newly learned. In this case, I learned more about my personality. I did make an effort though, and read a few lines from Jefferson’s letters. This one, a letter to John Adams dated 5 July 1814, caught my eye:

I am just returned from one of my long absences, having been at my other home for five weeks past. Having more leisure there than here for reading, I amused myself with reading seriously Plato’s Republic. I am wrong, however, in calling it amusement, for it was the heaviest task-work I ever went through. I had occasionally before taken up some of his other works, but scarcely ever had patience to go through a whole dialogue. While wading through the whimsies, the puerilities, and unintelligible jargon of this work, I laid it down often to ask myself, how it could have been that the world should have so long consented to give reputation to such nonsense as this [. . .] With the moderns, I think, it is rather a matter of fashion and authority. Education is chiefly in the hands of persons who, from their profession, have an interest in the reputation and the dreams of Plato. They give the tone while at school, and few in their after years have occasion to revise their college opinions. But fashion and authority apart, and bringing Plato to the test of reason, take from him, his sophisms, futilities, and incomprehensibilities, and what remains? In truth, he is one of the race of genuine sophists, who has escaped the oblivion of his brethren, first, by the elegance of his diction, but chiefly by the adoption and incorporation of his whimsies into the body of artificial Christianity. His foggy mind is forever presenting the semblances of objects which, half seen through a mist, can be defined neither in form nor dimension. Yet this, which should have consigned him to early oblivion, really procured him immortality of fame and reverence [. . .].

While my ignorance in this case is not quite of the Socratic kind, I have long learned to live with this “foggy mind” of mine, this cerebral mine reverberating with its own limitations, the cave as theater—at play with the shadows it insists on turning into puppets set up to make a fool of myself. Never mind Miss Bickford. And while I would like to discover whether the sly Mr. Longstreth, who managed to turn a history lesson into a word for the sponsor, landed another assignment as the result of Mr. Canning’s epistolary appeal to Mr. Little, I make the most of ignorance by attaching myself to what I cannot quite make out. I let my imagination run away with whatever scraps it is dealt . . .

The preceding was brought to you by the makers of forgetfulness, short attention span, and obsession, who had a lot of say in the matter . . .

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