Voltaire’s Letters from England, originally published in 1733, is a solipsistic treatise on political, religious, and cultural observation during his stay from 1726 to 1729 of the benign nation that welcomed the thinker with open arms when he fled from persecution in his native France.
But the book is not a blinded paean to a rival country with a long sophisticated warring history with an intent to retribute his spites to his mother country as an expatriate. Instead, Voltaire takes a stance of a piqued paratactic storyteller in the fashion of Herodotus’s Histories or a trenchant journalist in the school of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. In Voltaire’s eyes, that the English are practical folk with a propensity for realism: reflective, respectful of etiquette, cool-headed, and effusively proponent of scientific discoveries are conspicuous in the overview effect of France seen across from the other side of the Channel.
From the manners of English Quakers to Isaac Newton’s (whom he admires as the brilliant sun of Halios) quantum physics and the law of the universe in great detail, the subjects of interest and the depth of knowledge demonstrate that Voltaire is more than a rebellious French enlightenment thinker. He is a true intellectual whose reason is constituted by the consilience of multidisciplinary subjects in depth. The book is a testament to a genius of a particular kind who embodies a man of letters in its truest sense.
Who would have thought of it? The evening was alight with pillars of fire, and Washington was burning. The heart of the young republic streets was filled with a cacophony of screams, footsteps, and hollers as the king’s soldiers from the old country unfurled the British flag over the capital city. It was August 24th, 1814, thirty-eight years after the U.S. become a sovereign independent country from Great Britain.
The British invasion of Washington resulted from a combination of a longing to bring back its former colony and vengeance upon the former colony’s brazen-faced act of independence. The U.S. invaded the British territory of Canada in 1812, attacking the city of York, modern-day Toronto as well as Port Dover, which saw American troops destroy a large number of food supplies. However, thanks to the Canadian militia and the Native American forces, the U.S. attempt to take over British-ruled Canada flopped and only fueled the British fury for the imperious behaviors of the young country. To destabilize American power from within, the British supported the Native Americans, who continued to resist the U.S.’s westward expansion and impressed American merchant seamen to become crew on British ships, alluring them with better pay and higher career prospects. Moreover, the British could devote their time to the American affair when the war against France ended triumphantly, exiling the French leader Napoleon to St. Alba in 1814. So, it was ripe time for the British to march into the streets of the American capital city during the presidency of James Madison.
However, the British army was not altogether barbaric in ransacking civilian houses and burning historical and cultural artifacts like the Taliban. For example, the Taliban destroyed the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2001 that were incredible historical artifacts showing a spectacular combination of Indus and Hellenistic civilizations. The British didn’t harm the U.S. Patent Office, whose then-superintendent Dr. William Ornton’s plea for preserving the artifacts of humanity chimed the bell of the universal mind. They also didn’t set ablaze on civilian houses or buildings, except for the Capitol Building and the U.S. Treasury building. However, they did capture many of the valuable pictures and works of art, including the paintings of George III and Queen Charlotte from the President’s House (modern-day White House), later transported to Bermuda. How duplicitous it was to find the portraitures of the royalty from which Americans bled to gain independence owned by the American President’s House!
That might have become a great war between the two countries ended in the British retreat, thanks to the American blessing of untamed natural climate. An unexpected tornado pushed the British back to their ships and carried them back to their motherland, the Queen’s land. Come to think of it, America has been blessed with luck and timing, not to mention everlasting youth. Yet, this relatively unknown part of American history I have recently learned from a history magazine confirms that history is a series of vengeance on generations upon generations, as Herodotus observed. In that regard, the British burning of Washington reminds me of Julius Caesar’s burning of the library of Alexandria, the Greeks’ burning of Troy, and Nazi Germany’s burning of Paris. American is certainly no exception to the natural cycle of human history, invading and invaded, continuous in cycle and epicycle.
The jubilant fanfare is blasting, the majestic elephants are trumpeting, and the sensual dancers are sprinkling rose petals on the ways to herald the emergence of the royal celebrity. It is no other person than Eddie Murphy’s Akeem Joffer himself after thirty-three halcyon years in his kingdom. He is back from the past and in America. Will the king’s festivity have the same level of brilliance it once radiated thirty-three years ago?
King Akeem has got it all, and he envies nothing: the beautiful, thoughtful wife, wonderful daughters, the loyal friend and aides, and the kingdom of his that nothing is wanting. But alas, as it is our human nature wanting something, we think needful or must-have, so is our king who is egged on to bring out-of-wedlock son now living in Queens, New York. Akeem goes to New York and meets his old acquaintances, all of whom look immortalized in the abeyance of time because they are still alive and kicking with a little bit more gray streaks and a few more inches in their midriff circumferences. And yes, Akeem meets his young, intelligent, and brave son because, after all, it’s his son with the good genes in the blood, while the maternal line is the working-class heroine of a good sort. And yes, the storyline is all over but the shouting with introductions of a few more new faces.
Coming 2 America is one of the recent Eddie Murphy’s big ambitious movies that he hopes to resurrect the glory of his days as the awesome, the one and only Eddie Murphy, one of the funniest comedians in the world. His sharp tongue offended no one because it wasn’t out of malice or tension to purge out his angst-ridden self. Even his pejorative language and slang were likable and genuine because he had a natural wit to make the words coming out of his mouth funny. Also, he had self-confidence in every scene he was, but it wasn’t hubris or warrior-like belligerence. People loved him for that and his movies, of course. But to be honest, when I watched this movie with enthusiasm mixed with nostalgia like meeting an old friend, I saw a different Murphy, who seemed to have lost that brilliant luster of the perk that signified him. Maybe that is why the movie’s story is mainly centered in his kingdom, for, in his kingdom, Murphy needed no quirky ad-ribs, no fast actions, no more youthful adventures of city life that would have required horse-whips of energy.
However, the movie is not a failure because it brings fans of everywhere a nostalgia for their days of youth (mainly in the 80s) and gives them PG-13 appropriate entertainment, free of gratuitous sex and violence that movies nowadays automatically opt for. The thematic elements of family value, love, and will to meaning in life metastasize in the narrative, which we so much want in this crazy era of history. Nevertheless, I still miss Eddie Murphy when he was bolder, wilder, and funnier. For those who agree with me, I suggest another recent movie, Dolemite Is My Name, a biopic movie about the eponymous movie star because in the movie Murphy is funny with soul. It is good to see him that way.
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