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TrueTomHarley

Tribute to a Historian - R M de Vienne

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James Thomas Rook Jr. -
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From her sickbed, Rachael de Vienne stirred herself to tell me, through her daughter, that I was wrong. It was just on a tiny supporting fact of a book I was working on and I had only put the fact in so as to give her book a plug. I wasn’t even wrong on the fact—I was wrong on the inference I took from it, she said. I wasn’t even wrong on that, in my opinion. But that’s just it—it was my opinion. ‘Keep your opinions separate from the facts,’ she would have said. ‘There is nothing wrong with drawing inferences, conclusions, and educated guesses. Just label them as such.’ THAT is the kind of historian she was. Sigh—I changed the passage just to suit her, and it probably didn’t. 

She wouldn’t review my first book, either, or any of the other ones, though I just asked her to do the first, Tom Irregardless and Me. I mean, I had written a nice review for her book. Finally, with some nagging, she said that she might review mine and asked how I intended to submit it. ‘It’s not done that way,’ she retorted, when I told her. Tweeting with a co-blogger about it, as though on a private phone connection and not a social media platform broadcast to the whole wide world, the co-blogger told her that he wasn’t going to review it, either—‘the first chapter is about Prince, and then in places it is a little “preachy”—not pure fact at all.’ It was too much. I tweeted: “YOU GET ON THAT KEYBOARD AND REVIEW IT RIGHT NOW!” but then had second thoughts and deleted the tweet. See what sort of historians she hung out with?

During her final few months, she interspersed regular tweets with some detailing her illness, at times getting quite graphic, caring not about revealing the personal humiliation you must experience as your own body is betraying you. Imagine—chronicling your own suffering that way—true to her calling to the last. See what sort of an historian she was?

The book that she co-authored with the unwieldy title—as though to make clear that it is scholarly and not a specimen of pop writing—A Separate Identity—Organizational Identity Among Readers of Zion’s Watchtower: 1870-1887’: I admit, I skimmed it. Not through lack of interest—you will never find a more thorough history of non-mainstream events—but through lack of time. I wanted to write a decent and coherent review. I agreed with her (explicitly labeled) speculation that the the reason the Watchtower Society received her completed book without comment after being semi-cooperative in providing source material is that “they are incurious as to their own history.” Yeah. I agree. They are. So am I—I mean, I (and they) am not uninterested—it is just that I am interested in other things more. The ‘Society’ is not rooted in anything, I don’t think. They are progressive. They move on. 

Separate Identity is the not the only book that she wrote, and I look forward to curling up to it and others when (more likely if) I ever find the time, because it is excellent, universally praised, except occasionally by some hothead Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves because it does not adhere to the party line—it goes where it goes without regard to who has later been christened hero or villain. 

She co-authored a book about Nelson Barbour, too, and this should interest me even more because I 

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 (also a hundred years). I had written a blog post about Barbour, a well-known “get-outer” preacher of the late 1800s that Charles Taze Russell for a time partnered with, and I observed that there must have been some relationship between he and a well-known Rochester Presbyterian preacher of the same surname, whose wife Elizabeth is listed as ‘excommunicated and expunged’ or words to that effect. Rachael told me that I was wrong on that, too—the two families were entirely separate. 

I am not even sure that she liked me, really, but we followed each other on Twitter, and she would occasionally respond to my tweets and even more occasionally initiate some to me. My non-religious semi-serious historical work she let pass with minimal comment. Maybe she was more like my 7th grade social studies teacher, who made everyone literally start every essay paragraph with the phrase in parentheses: “who, what, where, why, how,” so that we would learn to write with substance, and who would say things like ‘Don’t write “In my opinion.” Of course it’s your opinion—you wrote it!’ This doesn’t entirely square with Rachael’s urging, which just goes to show why you mull over all input, but each one must ultimately develop his or her own style.

I always liked it that she found such great comfort from her family, to offset her many years of illness—lifelong, it seems. I miss her. Here is her obit, and the blog lives on in other hands, I believe. You will never find a more rigorous example of niche history, digging up letters, notes, minutia and photos 100 years old.

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Let’s end with a review of Separate Identity that says it all. It is 

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“Histories of the early Watch Tower movement tend to fall into two extremes, hagiography and polemic. This is because they are usually written from a range of widely differing theological perspectives, not that of a strict historian. Additionally, they tend to concentrate on the figure of Charles Taze Russell to the virtual exclusion of his contemporaries. This volume redresses that balance, written by two historians with an almost fanatical attention to detail as demonstrated by the voluminous footnotes. They appear to strive hard to keep any personal views out of the picture and go where the evidence takes them. The result is a detailed, even-handed history of Russell and his contemporaries - crucially in the context of their times. Many writers on this subject seem to try and graft 21st century attitudes onto 19th century people, not recognising that the beliefs of Russell and others in the second half of the nineteenth century were often far more mainstream than a modern reader might imagine. Even if one has no direct interest in Russell and what came later from his ministry, several groups today count people like Henry Grew, George Storrs, and John Thomas in their antecedents. These men all feature in this book and, certainly in the case of Storrs, you are unlikely to find as much detailed information on his life and work anywhere else. The writers have previously published a volume on Nelson Barbour: The Millennium’s Forgotten Prophet. That too is well worth reading, although the present volume (that takes history up to 1879) is a stand-alone book.”

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11 hours ago, TrueTomHarley said:

See what sort of an historian she was?

Absolutely. Quite a loss of someone who knew how to bring value out of historical sources by being thorough rather than taking shortcuts and extrapolating assumptions from just a couple of snippets here and there. Instead of 3 snippets and an assumed conclusion, her work manages to bring 30 snippets, no matter how trivial they might have seemed -- but offers no personal assumptions unless they are obvious, and unless they help guide you away from sloppy conclusions already made by pretenders to the profession.

Although I never commented on it, I read and kept up with the truth history blog on a fairly regularly basis in the last couple years. I bought both of the books and love their work. I know that another volume of "Separate Identity" was planned, even though it was pretty obvious that time and cost would make it unlikely. But at least they covered some of the most difficult time periods, which were also the most vulnerable to obscurity.

I think they missed very little between them, although a few items have shown up since their writing. But they would change very little -- nothing very substantial, anyway.

I like your comment above, and I notice that the version of this comment that you put on the blog gets cut off fairly early. Perhaps it's a character count limit. If it can still be edited your comment makes more sense in full, rather than in the way it's cut short. I understand why you wouldn't want to just link to your own longer version under the circumstances, of course.

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Guest B. W. Schulz

Rachael was my writing partner. Her loss has made us all sad. And her family and I appreciate all the kind comments made on various web sites including her personal blog, a literary agent's blog [Janet Reid was her long-time friend -

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] and our history blog.

You should note that volume 2 is nearing completion. There will be a third volume of Separate Identity, and it is partially written. We planned a follow-up book covering 1887-1912. It exists only as notes and a tentative outline. I still plan on writing this, though I can make no promises.

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11 hours ago, B. W. Schulz said:

You should note that volume 2 is nearing completion. There will be a third volume of Separate Identity, and it is partially written. We planned a follow-up book covering 1887-1912. It exists only as notes and a tentative outline. I still plan on writing this, though I can make no promises.

I'm saddened by the loss of Rachael de Vienne, but I'm thrilled to hear that at least the second volume of Separate Identity will be available soon. I'd love to read whatever else you publish.

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2 hours ago, JW Insider said:

I'd love to read whatever else you publish.

Say, you have plenty of old stuff lying around. Maybe you two could collaborate. After all, you need a new project.

”The riot squad is restless; they need somewhere to go.” - Bob Dylan

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22 hours ago, JW Insider said:

Although I never commented on it, I read and kept up with the truth history blog on a fairly regularly basis in the last couple years.

Unfortunately, Rachael would have taken a dim view of that, I fear. She could get pretty critical of those who read regularly but did not comment.

I once expressed my opinion to her that not everyone saw it that way, and she thereafter took a dim view of me for a day or so.

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7 hours ago, James Thomas Rook Jr. said:

Don't let grief at losing a close friend destroy your sense of humor .... if any.

It's not a good survival trait, nor lend itself to good mental health.

 

Please don’t start enlightening B W with your folk ‘wisdom.’

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7 hours ago, James Thomas Rook Jr. said:

Don't let grief at losing a close friend destroy your sense of humor .... if any.

It's not a good survival trait, nor lend itself to good mental health.

 

1 hour ago, TrueTomHarley said:

Please don’t start lecturing B W with your folk ‘wisdom.’ 

 

A one sentence response to his "downvote" is hardly a lecture.

Merely a one sentence response .... similar to a "upvote", but with 28 words.

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I changed “lecturing” to “enlightening.” It suits better. You are right. 28 words is not a lecture.

And he is just not sure whether your little cartoon is meant to offend JWs, as most of yours do. He doesn’t rubber-stamp every JW view of a century ago, but neither does he have the ax to grind that others clearly do, and accepts as a given that the players back then were upright persons of integrity.

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1 hour ago, TrueTomHarley said:

I changed “lecturing” to “enlightening.” It suits better. You are right. 28 words is not a lecture.

And he is just not sure whether your little cartoon is meant to offend JWs, as most of yours do. He doesn’t rubber-stamp every JW view of a century ago, but neither does he have the ax to grind that others clearly do, and accepts as a given that the players back then were upright persons of integrity.

Since you are a fan of "revisionist history", which you have just done, it's a good thing I quoted you in my post, so your latest post makes sense.

Otherwise, there is no rational continuity, and historical context is obscured.

For context reference:

2019-05-15_092335.jpg

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4 hours ago, James Thomas Rook Jr. said:

Since you are a fan of "revisionist history", which you have just done, it's a good thing I quoted you in my post, so your latest post makes sense.

Otherwise, there is no rational continuity, and historical context is obscured.

For context reference:

2019-05-15_092335.jpg

Oh, stuff it. Since I plainly reveal what I have just done, anyone with interest can easily see what has transpired. B. W. Is writing scholarly material of lasting significance. That is not so of most that goes down here.

What! You would put your irreverent cartoons on the level of ‘War and Peace’?

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On 5/14/2019 at 5:28 PM, B. W. Schulz said:

Rachael was my writing partner

Very sad to hear of your loss Mr Schulz. I have read the entire available content of

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 with fascination and a degree of awe at its detail. I am delighted I was able to contribute even a tiny speck regarding my friend Ruth Fenwick (née. Ling). I really appreciate your expert dispatching of the various early day myths  so delighted in by critics of the movement. I wish you had the time to cast the same discerning eye over some of the fanciful tales told in these later times. Your (and Rachael's) disciplined and rational approach has been an education to me.

I am eagerly awaiting the publication of your next volume of Separate Identity, and wish you every success in your endeavours, despite the loss of your co-worker.

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Guest B. W. Schulz

Dear Outahere

Rachael was working on a book covering the Knorr era. Unfortunately she was not far along. I'm old; but I want to continue our project through the Rutherford years. This is labor intensive. So it might never be finished. But that's the plan.

Rachael was my niece. She was brilliant. She was also loving, caring, bluntly spoken often, loved creation.

Thank you for your help. Many have contributed comments and documents to our work. Even things that seem insignificant are important. Tiny bits of things help us make connections.

As you read the blog you will find a side bar year index and an older posts button at the bottom. I'm glad you like our blog.

I'm re-editing all the finished chapters, putting them in order and fact checking. Sometimes this leads to a new research trail. I have three chapters to finish and I must write an afterward.

 

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