We like to sit on very high horses, don’t we? Every high horse I’ve gotten comfortable on has bucked me off. I suppose that is the nature of aging (and learning). I still have my moments.
Jeff Davis was only a decent cadet at West Point, but an excellent rider and extremely good looking (according to EVERYONE who met him). His military bearing, his grace, his unflappable sense of person integrity impressed friends and acquaintances, but he wasn’t perfect. He was involved in the EGGNOG RIOTS at West Point. Yes, it was as silly as the name. The boys smuggled in whiskey and got completely out of control one Christmas.
As a handsome military man things sometimes happen. I’m no apologist but I have a checkered past (and I was a straight A student set for great things!). For over a hundred years people have wondered about Jeff’s debilitating eye infection. The current theory is that AT SOME POINT JEFFERSON DAVIS CONTRACTED HERPES SIMPLEX. Jeff was not the sort to kiss and tell (as far as we know). I wonder at our shock over the Donald’s crass words when we seemed to love the bawdy talk of the women of Sex in the City–but maybe it’s just another high horse waiting to bolt.
Jeff Davis fell in love with Sarah Knox Taylor. When her father ZACHARY TAYLOR refused to give his blessing to the couple, worried that his daughter would have a horrible life following Jeff in the military, Jeff resigned. Three months after their wedding Sarah died of malaria. Jeff almost died as well. I wonder if his eye troubled him yet?
I think we tend to gloss over what pain and tragedy does to a man (or woman). My brother went crazy for about five years when his wife died of brain cancer. Imagine a wedding and a funeral so closely following. Imagine the weakness and depression felt by a young man recovering from malaria and the loss of a young, beautiful wife.
Jeff hermit-ted himself away on the plantation his brother gave him as a wedding gift. He read history. He by chance went to a political meeting and to his surprise was given a position. This post is not about slavery. It’s not about tearing down monuments and in doing so tearing down the complexities of history (don’t you mourn the loss of photos and diaries of your forebears when you find a heartless relative threw them away as clutter?)
People in pain sometimes fight battles and cling to old ideas as their only means of survival. At a Christmas party Jeff met Varina Davis, a girl with Northern ties. Was Jeff just lonely? Did he love her as much as Sarah? They married.
We look at photographs of Jefferson Davis as either a hero of the “Lost Cause” or a hardhearted traitor to his country, but it’s never that easy. Jeff served his country in and out of the military for years. Slavery (only recently done away with in England and still quite a popular thing in the rest of the world including Africa at the time) was seen by different people in different ways–just as pro-life people see things differently about abortion than other people. Most of us go with the flow. We listen to the people with strong opinions one way or the other but very few of us do more than that.
As the debates about slavery heated up again (for slavery was debated constantly since the founding of the nation) so did Jeff’s pain. Herpes simplex comes with black pimples forming around the eye, the eye swells and a film forms. I won’t disgust you with the horrible details of 19th century treatment but it was bad. During a recurrence of symptoms which can lay dormant for a time, Davis lay in a darkened room for days and weeks. Did he wonder if any of it was his fault? Why would he? Even a strong wind hitting the eye was said to bring on his outbreaks.
But there was more. Sudden and severe shocks of pain assaulted his face. A pain so terrible that Varina said the only words Jeff spoke to her were intermingled with such tortured cries of anguish she could hardly stand it. But she did. With every bout of TRIGEMINAL NEURALGIA (considered one of the most painful nerve disorders known to man) Varina stayed at Jeff’s side–sometimes just holding his hand. He could neither eat nor move–again this went on for days and weeks. As a senator he cared so deeply for his duties that on many occasions Varina and others carried him to his work in Washington.
If Jeff loved Varina at first, he was devoted to her now (and would be for the rest of his life).
Jeff shared an unlikely friendship with WILLIAM SEWARD, an openly pragmatic anti-slavery senator from New York, and through Jeff’s illnesses Seward visited him on a daily basis. When a doctor suggested Jeff might have to have his eye removed, Seward reportedly cried with Varina that to spoil Jeff’s face–a face of such masculine beauty– would break their hearts.
Words said in a sick bed are often quite interesting:
After Seward admitted that he never voted but only as it might help his career, “The weakened Mississippian gasped to Seward, ‘Do you ever speak from conviction alone?’
“‘Ne-ever,’ said Seward, stretching out the word as he leaned forward in his chair.
“Davis raised his head from the pillow, looked right at his Northern friend, and said in a low voice, ‘As God is my judge, I never spoke from any other motive.’
“Seward was genuinely moved.”**
**Essay inspired by Bruce Chadwick’s book 1858
Attacks of trigeminal neuralgia may be triggered by the following:
- Touching the skin lightly
- Brushing teeth
- Blowing the nose
- Drinking hot or cold beverages
- Encountering a light breeze
- Applying makeup
16 responses to “Pain Management and Love”
The ressemblance with Abe Lincoln is uncanny: Haircut, dress…
As a “furner” who went to Grad School in Alabama (Bless mah soul) I have mixed feelings about the Civil War. I also don’t believe slavery was the only issue. Things were much more complex. As for Jefferson Davis… well, he probably was a “faine” gentleman and not a very good leader, especially compared to “Robut” E. Lee. Ultimately the destruction waged upon the South by the armies of Grant and (worse of all) Sherman was… a butchery.
On a wider historical perspective, the Civil War, in the 1860’s, was the first “modern” war, with massive destruction. And no-one in the western world had understood its “lessons” when WWI broke out, resulting in the blood bath that is now well known.
A shame. But such is war always.
Take care Adrienne.
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The Civil War was complex, indeed and as it went on it changed the people on both sides. Recently I read about a Confederate veteran who came upon a little black girl on her way to a newly opened school. Meeting her changed the way he felt about slavery–very touching.
I think while there were other things that exacerbated the sectional divide, slavery was a the root of most of it. Every bill, every small bit of funding for this or that public work became a slavery issue in the end. Would a transcontinental railroad help slavery? Would the annexation of new territory help slavery etc.
I think it’s important to give credit where credit is due. There were many people who were strongly opposed to slavery and spent their lives fighting to end it (I’m thinking John Quincy Adams for one). By saying it wasn’t about slavery we make it easy for angry people to assume that all Americans were racist, slavery lovers. It’s just not so. Only a tiny percentage of Americans owned slaves–within that percentage is a fair amount of black and Indian slave holders. Most Americans today don’t even have family members who lived in America back then. I do have family who fought and put their lives on the line for the Union.
Sherman’s march couldn’t have happened early in the war but by the end the anger (and sense that in the alien terrain of the South the citizens were just as dangerous as the Confederate soldiers) of the average soldier fueled many fires.
War is hell (or so I’ve heard).
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Point(s) well taken. In the end the Civil war did end slavery. Perhaps my… perspective? Is that there may have more than slavery as issues at hand. At any rate, war IS hell. (Ask my grandfather) Take care. (Ye be good naw!) 😉
I love a good Southern accent, but I’m a Yankee through and through. 🙂
All the best to you, my friend!
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Ah du speak Sudern (as a furn language) 🙂 And I understand where you come from. And let me tell you: I love the North too. Hell, I love most/all places of the US I’ve had the opportunity to go to. est to you too, mon amie.
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Slavery of human beings was and is unjust and indefensible, and this country sadly still suffers from the anguish of having built an economy on the backs of enslaved Black people.
Indeed. In no way am I defending slavery. I think it’s too easy though to bury single individuals under the blame when living in the blindness of their times. We all seem blinded to the slavery that exists to this day around the world. I tremble at the thought of being blamed for it! But what do I do? I think seeing people as pure evil never helps us to understand the motivations we ourselves often have for avoiding dealing with the awful things we do as humans (slave labor, rape, animal cruelty, partial birth abortion…the list goes on and on). Sadly we all either eat meat, buy cheap goods on the backs of slave labor and turn our faces away from Christians having their heads chopped off and babies being killed for the sake of convenience in many cases. One day people may look back and call us barbarians or worse.
I’d also like to point out that many, many indentured servants were actually seen as lower than slaves and had such high death rates they often didn’t make it out of servitude. Many of these poor souls were kidnapped children! So there’s blame and sadness all around.
It’s a shame we can’t get past seeing everything through race–it only serves to divide us, but human tendency is what it is. LBJ once said privately that it was a very good thing to have people on the government dole. It made them slaves again, of course.
I think the black academic Thomas Sowell said that black people do have something to blame for their modern dilemma and it’s not slavery but the welfare state as it stands today.
I’ve never kept a slave but I’ve done things I never thought I’d do. I can’t seem to be rid of the evil within me. This seems to be a common problem.
But thanks for giving me the opportunity to make myself clear: I firmly stand against slavery.
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Not a value judgement. Definitely not a value judgement.
However, as a matter of historical record, the progress of anti-slavery legislation in UK and in its then empire began with a leading legal ruling in the third quarter of the 18th century and culminated with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, with the British navy policing West Africa from a period before the Battle of Waterloo. So ‘recently done away with in England’ might be misleading. However, it goes without saying that planters of English heritage in the West Indies, Sri Lanka or South Africa were still continuing the practice long after — though many were happy to take the billions of pounds in 21st century terms that was paid over in compensation. The slaves,on the other hand, never got their 40 acres and a mule from the British.
Imagine the cost of reparations to all the slaves in history! I think sometimes that it might be a good idea to revisit the heroes of those times a little more than we do. They fought against something considered fairly normal since the beginning of time. Hurray for England. 🙂
The British anti-slavery movement had as its base one particular coffee shop in St Martin’s Lane — an amazing location where many of the ideas that make up the Liberal agenda of the western world were first discussed and formulated. While they were deciding against slavery they also had time to consider the routinely cruel treatment of animals by humans in a world where commerce relied on horses and butchers slaughtered in public — and from that same group in the same coffee shop came what would become the RSPCA..
In what coffee shop was eugenics discussed? LOL.
I love England. Love the US too–warts and all.
Eugenics? That would be Cold Spring Harbor… or some Carnegie Institute.
Hey, we have more warts than you do.We aren’t so good or poor, tired huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but I guess it’s because we have the landmass of a football field whereas you guys have a home where the buffaloes roam where the deer and the antelopes play. Where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day
But you guys had Darwin and his cabal to get the eugenics ideas off to a good start 😉 It is pretty sunny here (politics aside).
I never quite got Darwin… If natural selection and survival of the fittest really works, how come a thousand generations of flies haven’t yet figured out how window glass works?
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Great writing. I enjoyed it completely.
It helps when writing about an interesting man.
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