Friday, April 12, 2013

Shaken, Not Stirred!

I’m into my James Bond phase right now. Though I saw Skyfall in the theatre, I was given a DVD for my birthday, so seeing it again, I am interested in the master spy all over again. I have downloaded some of my favorite 007 title songs to drive along with. They are just great, especially the older ones like “Goldfinger” and “From Russia With Love”. They are old school standards, with great horn sections blaring, the singer caressing the lyrics. It just makes you want to get out the martinis (shaken, not stirred, of course)!
And so, I looked into espionage in the 18th Century, and found some interesting bits for you. Spies and counterspies were just as commonplace then as now. During the Revolutionary War, English and American spies secretly or stealthly transmitted information about troop movements, supplies, political maneuvering. Even Benjamin Franklin’s son spied on his father, and reported information to the British government. He was paid to do so, and I guess he obliged.  How shameful!

Just like Bond, these 18th Century secret agents used a number of methods for hiding or transmitting information, including invisible ink, secret codes and blind drops. Sometimes an invisible message was written between the lines of another letter, with chemically-prepared ink. The reader would read the letter over a flame, and the message would appear. How ingenious!
Of course, there are always codes and ciphers, and secret messages placed in a tree hollow, park bench, a common, unassuming location to be picked up later on. How deceiving!

Industrial spying was engaged in, and a wonderful book by Sarah Rose entitled For All the Tea in China, tells the story of a scientist who was sent by the British government to “literally steal the secrets of tea production in China, plant the tea in Darjeeling, and thus make the British Empire less reliant on trade with the Chinese and more self-sufficient by harvesting its own tea in colonial India!” How clever!
And then there was Birch, Harvey Birch. Mr. Birch was the principal character in James Fenemore Cooper’s second novel, The Spy. Cooper lives from 1789 to 1851, wrote this book in 1821. Harvey Birch is a supposed loyalist who is actually a spy for George Washington.  It was the first time a spy was the leading character of a story. How very novel!



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