Jefferson’s Darkest Hour
Our June cover story chronicling Thomas Jefferson’s narrow escape from redcoats while wartime governor of Virginia and his efforts to defend himself against accusations of cowardice leveled by contemporaries struck a raw nerve with some readers. “It was shocking to see one of our most important and revered Founding Fathers downgraded and ridiculed,” wrote Martha Anne and John Street of Austin, Texas.
In “The Wizard Who Electrified the World” (June 2010), Ronald H. Bailey writes that during a public demonstration of remote control electronics in 1898, Nikola Tesla said, “You see here the first of a race of robots.” According to other authoritative sources, the term “robot” did not exist until more than 20 years later. It was coined by the Czech writer Karel Capek in 1921 in his play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots).
In the words of Karel Capek, “The product of the human brain has escaped the control of human hands.” The passage Bailey cites is based on the recollections decades after the fact of a reporter who was present at the event, but whose memory wires were crossed. Capek considered calling his automatons “labori.” But his brother Joseph
suggested robot, based on the Czech word for slave: robotnik.
I am compelled to comment on “America’s Worst Winter” (April 2010). Morristown, N.J., was more than a campsite during the coldest winter. General George Washington holed up there frequently, and it earned the title “Military Capital of the Revolution.” Morristown is where Washington received foreign dignitaries, advisers and his generals, and where he laid out the plan for victories on the field of combat. The cast-bronze front door of the home that became the town’s municipal building contains scenes, in relief, depicting Washington in Morristown. I understand that a second casting is on display at the Louvre in Paris. At Valley Forge soldiers suffered in silence. At Morristown, steeled by the most awesome of conditions and winters, that ragtag bunch of mutineers became Americans. They went on to defeat one of the world’s greatest military powers of that day.
Raymond B. De Chiara