First we had David Donald recording Lincoln's allusion to the parable of the talents without understanding what a talent was and that Lincoln used a saying of Jesus to allegorize the fates of his father and uncle. King James, Matthew 25:28-29 "Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." Unto Mordecai it was given. The primogeniture laws helped.
Now we have Drew Gilpin Faust, in Republic of Suffering, stymied by the parable of the prodigal son. Empasis added:
When Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. rushed to Maryland fearing his son dead after Antietam, he described the combination of hope and terror that must have been shared by many who traveled to the front in search of kin. When in spite of his worst fears, he found the young captain alive, the father characterized his shifting expectations as in some profound sense a shifting reality: "Our son and brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found."Holmes senior actually responded with a readymade. Perhaps he could find no more adequate response than King James, Luke 15:24, "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." Characterizing a shifting reality - definitely not in his own words.
I admit to being stumped by many Shakesperean and Biblical allusions out of the mouths of Civil War personalities but the parables are writ large into the general culture down to this day. It is curious that the many readers of Donald's and Faust's manuscripts could let these mistakes pass.
Meanwhile, are we all up-to-date on our Dickens? I could never stand him and beg to be excused for missing any and all Dickensian allusions. Here, Civil War authors won't let us down. Ever. Whenever someone in that day writes or says "waiting for something to turn up" a modern editor or author rushes in to remind us that this is from Mr. Micawber (David Copperfield). In a comparable annoyance, any reference to ingratiating behavior and our authors rush in to inject mention of Uriah Heep.
Attention ACW authors: Dickensian references made by Civil War personages are throwaway lines, the equiavlent of mouthing advertising catchphrases for a cheap laugh. They are not enriching anyone's speech or deepening conversation. You can let them be. We won't miss them.
The flip side of this residual Dickensmania is the absence of similar authorial interventions on behalf of Shakespeare. When the ACW personage utters or writes a Shakesperean line, the Civil War author is persistently silent. That's fine - the quality of the references remain "pop culture" and are generally superficial. It's just weird that Dickens appears to be the storehouse of all contemporary culture for Civil War authors.
A final literary annoyance, and this continues to gall me year after year: it's about excerpting a grandiose phrase or line and slapping it on a book to do duty as a title. Since such a title has zero informational value, the subtitle must tell all.
On the lower end of the scale are the pragmatic, nearly sensible phrases like No Disgrace to My Regiment. On the upper end keep the seasickness pills handy:
Terrible Swift Sword
Battle Cry of Freedom
The Longest Night
To the Gates of Richmond
Landscape Turned Red
Beneath a Northern Sky
Go if You Think It Your Duty
The Women Will Howl
Waters of Discord
Love Amid the Turmoil
A Fierce, Wild Joy
Well Satisfied with My Position
Blood, Tears & Glory
Forced into Glory
But There Was No Peace
The Hour of Our Nation's Agony
Both Prayed to the Same God
Burn the Town and Sack the Banks
As If It Were Glory
Earthen Walls, Iron Men
Struggle for a Vast Future
To Honor These Men
These are not normal turns of phrases in the speech of the Civil War era. These represent excess. Given titles like these, can I trust such an author to hear the faint voice of history under some mountain of primary material?
"What curious eye doth quote deformities?"