Sunday, June 25, 2023

On leaving a body of writings to one's descendants

The above brief article is an interesting WIRED magazine tale.  An irascible (English?) Professor died at age 90 leaving an enormous body of his writings, apparently all of which were unpublished.  He wanted his daughter to preserve them in some way and she did, in an internet archive that comprised seven gigabytes.  

The irascible professor wrote a lot of poetry throughout his life, apparently trying to publish it early on and when he was unsuccessful in that, declared that “it was their loss” and no longer tried to publish, but continued writing.  Did he think that he might be “discovered” at some future date?  There have been notable such discoveries in literary history which he would surely have been aware of.

The above tale does resemble mine to some degree.  I went through a Bachelor’s degree and halfway through a Masters degree before contenting myself to a life in Engineering.  But I wasn’t utterly content in that field, however competent I might have been.  I continued to write poetry.  For several years I worked (Engineering work) with Lee Griffith who accomplished a Masters Degree in English from Duke University.  His specialty had been, when he still thought he might ultimately become a Professor of English Literature, Poetic Criticism.  Thus, I would regularly write and he would regularly criticize, using the latest criticism from Duke at the time. And so I was encouraged to keep on writing.  Occasionally I would send something off, not so much wanting to publish as doing what was expected.  Eventually, Lee was caught in a layoff and went someplace else in aerospace to work, but I kept on writing.

Along with the poetry, I’ve written the occasional essay, and numerous letters which might be of interest to my descendants.  And when I think of having my writings preserved, along the lines of the aforementioned cantankerous English Professor, it isn’t with a few, or much of one, of being eventually recognized.  I have had a number of interests over the years and one of them has been genealogy.  My great-grandfather on my father’s side was Schuyler V. Helm, who lived from 1834 to 1882.  He fought in the American Civil War on the side of the North as an engineer (an interesting coincidence in that I was born exactly 100 years after he was and worked in aerospace as an engineer).  I acquired his military records but there was nothing personal in them.  At the end of the war, he was well thought of and was promoted from sergeant (another coincidence.  I was a sergeant in the USMC) to lieutenant, which meant that he could have stayed in had he wanted to, but he took his severance pay, and bought a plot of land in “Indian Country” in what is today Iowa.  I speculate that he was wounded in the way in that he didn’t live very long, only 48 years. (Although another thread has him being born in 1841 and dying in 1904 in South Dakota which death location has the advantage of being where my grandmother, Bertha Freeman, had family which she occasionally visited when I was small, but Schuyler’s war records support the dates I mentioned.)  All of which is to say, if one of my own descendants of descendant of a friend, or related to my second wife, expressed an interest in whom I was, there would be a cache of information in a cloud some place referenced in or its like.  


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