U.S. 1 received two surprising responses to Dan Aubrey’s July 1 cover story on Richard Stockton, Declaration of Independence signer and former resident of Morven in Princeton.

One was from Richard S. Snedeker, a retired engineer who writes the popular “Looking Back” column for our sister publication, the West Windsor-Plainsboro News. To “look back” into the life and times of Stockton, Snedeker could begin by consulting his own family genealogy — he is a direct descendant. His middle initial stands for Stockton. Snedeker, who has served as a docent at Morven, has a wealth of knowledge about the man who was first to sign the Declaration.

Snedeker most appreciated the handling of Stockton’s prison release: “Many historians are content to go with the most obvious explanation and don’t bother to put the action in context, i.e. Stockton wanting to get back to Princeton and take care of his family. If I had been in his situation that would certainly have been the most important factor to me.”

The other letter came from a Princeton resident who was so taken by the Stockton story line and Aubrey’s operatic form of presentation, that she immediately set out to create an adaptation that she could recite (and sing) at a Fourth of July party she and her husband were attending.

She not only sent us a copy of the adaptation, but also offered the following letter:

I had to let you know that I adored Dan Aubrey’s “Opera for the Mind, The Trying Times of Richard Stockton.” And, in terms of its utility, I adapted it yesterday morning, starting at 5 a.m., for a July 4th party my husband and I were going to.

My adapted piece is called “The All Too Human Declaration: Stockton’s Story,” with two additional subtitles, “A Human Declaration” and “A Declaration of Humanity.” In looking at these titles, I prefer “A Human Declaration.”

I also wanted to share my thoughts with you about this particular Opera for the Mind: Much of the thinking and expression that goes on nowadays (yes, that’s a very broad statement indeed) is black or white — we inhabit primary color silos. But in Richard Stockton’s signing the document [at the end of the opera], indicating he will be loyal to the King, and, thus, his abdication as a revolutionist, we see a man who you feel does not want to die, and more importantly, wants to spend the rest of his life with his beloved Annis. A man who is very much in love with his wife.

So, there are two striking things that go on in my opera in my mind — the first is when answering Annis’s question about the truth of whether Richard is a traitor or not, Rush tells her that the truth he knows to be true is that Richard loves Annis. A high moment some might think of as great warmth and diplomacy, but it’s also a very, very human moment.

And the second moment is at the end of the opera when Annis, upon seeing the pitiable shape her husband is in, does not reproach him or ask about whether he has committed an traitorous acts, in responding to his question “What have we made,” answers him “Our choices. And we will continue to do so.” That’s a truly triumphant moment for humanity. That is the truth we all live by, consciously or unconsciously.

Well, you see how moved I was, and hope that you will publish many more “Operas for the Mind.” It certainly did my mind a good turn.

Please let me know how you like my adaptation. Ah, yes, I added a few things to my opera — a Chorus that sings in hip-hop style, chants, and sometimes parodies actual songs. And I’ve added an announcer to keep the opera moving.

Your Opera for the Mind was a real object lesson!

Lillian Israel


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