Burton Milward Jr.’s new book is like reading a 19th-century gossip column, full of judgments that turned out to be dead wrong, shortsighted comments, nasty observations, and at least one vendetta — a lot like today. If these writers had had Twitter, there would have been blood.
In “Henry Clay’s Lexington,” Milward compiles and excerpts letters, journals and articles written about Lexington during Clay’s time. No dry historical dust, this. Many of the writers are either weary with travel or engaged in the kind of bickering that makes history so much more than dry and inaccessible tomes. These writers are out in the cow patty-studded fields with Henry Clay, sweating through hot summers, archly evaluating how nice the Clay house was and whether Clay’s family lived up to the standard in more fashionable cities.
Throughout the book, not one letter writer or journal keeper can ever keep straight how far Clay’s house was from downtown. It’s reported to be anywhere from a mile to two miles.
Milward, a former Louisville lawyer who now teaches Transcendental Meditation in Fairfield, Iowa, finds Lexington history intriguing. Among its great characters is Henry Clay, who came to Lexington at age 19 and represented Kentucky in both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, garnering such nicknames as “The Great Compromiser” and “The Western Star.”
Milward attended the University of Kentucky law school. His father was a local historian who worked for the Lexington Leader. Milward worked in Louisville before returning to Lexington to care for his aging parents. He ultimately moved to Iowa for Transcendental Meditation, which he had practiced since he was a student. Fairfield, Iowa, is considered the Transcendental Meditation capital of America.