BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 25 Apr 2018, 11:29

What you know not now, you will know hereafter. Joanna Southcott

I’m not sure whether Christianity produces more than its share of seers, visionaries, and fanatics, but within Christianity there are variations. Catholicism has found a place for them—the pantheon of saints—so many stay within the fold. But Protestant prophets intensify fissiparous tendencies feared even by the first Reformers, like Luther and Calvin. One of the most successful prophets of English Protestantism was Joanna Southcott, born in Devon on April 25, 1750. Her family’s humble circumstances intensified memories of palmier days (a grandfather had been eminent amongst the Herefordshire gentry) and may have strengthened Joanna’s belief in her extraordinariness. Otherwise the very normality of her early experiences (put out to domestic service) contributed to her prophetic power, for much of her mountainous output (published and manuscript) told of how her mundane life recapitulated biblical prophecy, including her (unconsummated) courtships with various rustic lads. But there were no visions until 1792, after which they came with a rush. She often “sealed” her prophecies to test them against future events, and she gained followers. Most of these were poorer folk (a reflection of her social message), but there were wealthier ones too, notably the London gentlewoman Jane Townley and the northern merchant George Turner. Southcott retained enough support (including among orthodox clergy) that the authorities didn’t know what to do with her (although she did spend a year in an asylum when she incautiously prophesied on the royal succession), but when at age 64 she claimed an immaculately conceived pregnancy she had gone too far for many. Despite her marriage to a willing “Joseph,” her death in late 1814—and a quite grisly autopsy—confirmed that Joanna was overweight and suffering from an extreme flatus. But some followers remained faithful, and even today English Protestantism—on its fringes—includes Southcottians, notably in the shape of the Panacea Society. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 26 Apr 2018, 13:03

I believe in the forest, and in the meadow, and in the night in which the corn grows. Henry David Thoreau, "Walking," first published in 1862.

I have made, probably, a couple dozen attempts to start a journal, but most have lasted less than a week, some just one day. But I envy those diarists who succeed, for instance Henry David Thoreau, who not only kept one but spectacularly proved (in Walden, 1854) how useful a journal can be for encouraging reflective thought or, as he memorably put it, for living deliberately. But Walden is not our only reward from Thoreau’s journal-keeping. On April 26, 1841, he entered one line—at the end of a paragraph-long reflection on how the Indian “stands free and unconstrained in Nature . . . her inhabitant and not her guest.” It read simply

It is a great art to saunter.

Later he returned to that thought, adding value. A talk on ‘walking’ would be one of Thoreau’s staples on the lecture circuit (along with spells at school-teaching and at pencil-making, it was his main source of bread and cheese), and in May 1862The Atlantic magazine unearthed a manuscript of the talk and published it (as a memorial for, sadly, Henry Thoreau had just died, aged 45, of tuberculosis.) It is, we know, just another version of a lecture often delivered, but it does contain two charming etymologies of that wonderful verb “to saunter:” “which word is beautifully derived from ‘idle people who . . . in the Middle Ages asked charity, under pretense of going à la Sainte Terre,’ and thus became known, to children, as “saunterers.” The other possibility, Thoreau thought, was that walkers—those who really knew how to walk—were “sans terre” which “in the good sense will mean, having no home but equally at home everywhere.” The OED tells me that neither etymology is correct, so just think of them as “good enough,” and the next time you go on a walk, perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, maybe at the weekend, make it your saunter, your pilgrimage, your effort to be equally at home everywhere. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Apr 2018, 12:48

The reasons that led me to fix Adelaide where it is I do not expect to be generally understood or calmly judged at present. My enemies, however, have done me the good service of fixing the whole of the responsibility on me. William Light, 1839.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Great Britain colored the world’s map red and expropriated (from Spain) the boast that the sun never set on its empire. Much of this expansion came from energies generated on the empire’s fringes, for instance by Captain Francis Light, who left his Royal Navy ship to wed a woman he claimed to be a Malay princess (she was Eurasian, descended from an earlier, Portuguese adventurer), establish a British outpost (Penang), and become its first (imperial) superintendent. Their second child, William Light, born in Penang on April 27, 1786, would extend the fringes of empire by planning what would become the capital city of South Australia, Adelaide, in 1837-9. Light did it well, and Adelaide (named after King William IV’s queen consort) is today ranked as one of the world’s most livable cities. Important to this was Light’s decision to move the residential, political, and mercantile city a bit upstream from its seaport, not bad going since, at the time, there was no city there at all. But before Light got to that task, he lived a fascinating life, full of military adventure and imperial freebootery, adding deeper color to that red map. Educated in England, he joined the Royal Navy in time to become a French POW in the first Napoleonic war. Ransomed back at 18, he took time off to help his brother-in-law subdue rebels in South India. Then he returned “home” to become a cavalry officer, distinguishing himself in the Peninsular War (1807-1810), sold his commission, married well (twice, the second time to a natural daughter of the Duke of Richmond), divorced, took up with a mistress, and played an important role increasing British influence in Egypt by reforming the Pasha’s navy. Along the way, he’d also picked up surveying and painting, and these skills brought him the Adelaide commission. He worked hard enough at it that it killed him, and he was buried at what became the center of his new city, now appropriately called Light Square. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 29 Apr 2018, 07:01

Like a modern Copernicus . . . From an obituary for Jan Hendrik Oort, 1992.

On April 25 this year, dozens of astrophysicists gathered to “do” science. It is 2018, so some ‘gathered’ virtually, but most were either in New York or at the HQ of the European Space Agency in Paris (which organized the project). At day’s end, they announced that they had identified 1.7 billion stars in our little galaxy, the Milky Way. I suppose they have named each of them, too, although assuredly not as poetically as Polaris, Betelgeuse or Alpha Centauri. They might have waited until April 28 to make their announcement. It was during the last century that we began fully to understand that our galaxy, that band of light that stretches across the night sky, was really just one galaxy of many, its incomprehensible span just a small smudge of light and radiation on the universe’s map. And one of the astronomers that had much to do with those discoveries was Jan Hendrik Oort, born in Friesland, Holland, on April 28, 1900. A psychiatrist’s son and descended from eminent theologians on both sides, Oort worried that his choice of science would alienate him from “the human factor,” but he took that path anyway, studying at Groningen and Yale, then joining the faculty at Leiden. Almost immediately, he started to shake us up, not least by demonstrating that our star, our sol, was not even at the center of our galaxy, and proving that the whole galaxy rotated in space “like a giant Catherine Wheel.” He resigned (in protest) from all his positions and honors at the Nazi invasion, but kept on thinking, and with the peace resumed his work. He made important discoveries with radiometry, including the “21-centimeter line” (look it up). He’s memorialized in many ways, notably the “Oort Cloud,” his discovery, a vast region, north of Pluto you might say, where most and possibly all of our comets come from. In a sense, those 1.7 billion stars (there will be more—just be patient) might also be called the Oort Cloud. But I still prefer “Milky Way.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 29 Apr 2018, 14:24

Thought must never submit, neither to a dogma, nor to a party, nor to a passion, nor to an interest . . . , for submission would mean ceasing to be. Henri Poincare.

Our scientific illiteracy has several sources, willful ignorance (as per Donald Trump) being one. A more fundamental problem may be that science speaks in languages that most find difficult if not impenetrable. Luckily each new generation of scientists seems to spawn able translators of those languages. These ‘popularizers’ exist everywhere, including in schools. My high school physics teacher, Herman Kirkpatrick, taught me much more than either he or I realized at the time. But “Mr. K.” is famous only to his pupils. Other popularizers reached wider audiences, and among them Henri Poincaré stands out for his scientific eminence and for his common touch. He was born in Nancy, in the Moselle, on April 29, 1854. After an illness during which he was nursed—and educated—by his mother, he entered formal schooling in institutions now named after him, excelling in most fields. His best subject was that core language of science, mathematics; he won the doctorate (at Paris) in 1879. His love of mathematics and his grasp of its utilities made him a polymath, and he tallied significant achievements in several other fields, notably engineering, physics, and astronomy. Indeed he may be best known today not for his many findings in mathematics (an astonishing list) but for his signal contributions to physics, notably in the matter of special relativity (where today some see him as Einstein’s coequal). But this odd bird believed that mathematics (in most of its branches) was not so much a science (logic) as it was a culture (intuitive), more in need of articulation than of proofs, and so it was that he wrote about science for humanity in general, and (even when discussing mathematics) in languages that humanity in general could understand. He also defended Alfred Dreyfus and celebrated when his first cousin Raymond Poincaré (also a scientist) became prime minister, and then president, of the republic. But those are different stories. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 30 Apr 2018, 14:03

The Skating Minister. A portrait in motion of the Rev'd Robert Walker, The National Gallery, Edinburgh.

My ancestor Hugh Kerr (of Dalry, Ayrshire) was censured by his kirk for excessive jollification owing to alcohol. Into the bargain he was lectured by his elder sister and disinherited by his father. In reaction, Hugh moved his wife Margaret and his young family to Illinois. So I’ve thought of the Scottish church—Presbyterian to a fault—as dour and drab, severe and straitlaced, a bit po-faced. But there’s a moderately famous Raeburn painting, c. 1794, in Edinburgh’s National Gallery, “The Skating Minister,” which gives me pause. A hint of original sin may lurk in its background, dull grey mountains and a darkening sky, and the skater is certainly attired in ministerial black, but the whole attitude of his body, his ruddy complexion, and his expression show us a man at peace and in good humor. Above all he skates, gliding along mindless of Adam’s fall (and certainly not contemplating his own). For years it was not known who this jolly dominie was, perhaps just a figment of Sir Henry Raeburn’s imagination, or even a mild satire on the kirk, but we now know that he was the jolly Reverend Robert Walker, born into the kirk (a minister’s son, no less), in Ayrshire, on April 30, 1755. Robert Walker learned to skate in Rotterdam, where his dad had gone to minister to the Scottish church, and when he returned to Scotland—licensed to preach at only 15!!!—he continued to skate. In due course he was installed at Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh, where he preached the rest of his life. And he became Chaplain of the Royal Company of Archers, a convivial group that by then hardly ever strung a bow, and (horrors!) the Reverend Robert Walker was also a member in good standing of the Wagering Club. And he skated, never—we hope—across thin ice (for winters were colder then), but serenely and joyfully. Had the Rev’d Mr. Walker been minister at Dalry, perhaps Hugh Kerr had never left hearth and home to pioneer at Liberty Prairie, east of Edwardsville. ©

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 May 2018, 13:28

My rebellion took the form of hating the conventional. From Romaine Brooks's manuscript memoir, "No Pleasant Memories."

Among the ironies of Romaine Brooks’s life is that her painting, La France Croisée (1914), intended as an anti-war statement, won her the Légion d’honneur for services to the republic, for its subject—a gaunt, brave, defiantly angry nurse surveying the desolation of war—became an icon of the French war effort, and was especially effective in raising funds for the French Red Cross. Romaine Brooks was born (Beatrice Romaine Goddard) on May 1, 1874, in Rome, and carried with her the advantages being a millionaire’s granddaughter and the disadvantages of being the daughter of an alcoholic father and a brutally cold mother. Still, she inherited an American fortune in 1902, and (having, in 1896, begun formal training in art) began to develop on canvas her unique aesthetic. Her marriage to John Brooks in 1903, one of convenience for both of them, gave her British citizenship, and she established studios in London and St. Ives. Her canvases showed a new appreciation of the female form, strong, lean, androgynous, and a fascination with the grey scale. Even in St. Ives, Brooks did not consort much with other artists. Instead, she was—from before her mother’s death—a central member of an expatriate community of upper class folk, mainly but not entirely British, that included many homosexuals. Although it’s certain that Romaine Brooks had several heterosexual affairs, the love of her life was an American, Natalie Barney, and in her own distinctive dress and bearing Romaine became, and remains, a lesbian icon. This same aesthetic dominates her paintings of female subjects, not least those (like La France croisée) in which she used the Russian ballerina Ida Rubinstein as model. In the 1930s, Romaine Brooks regained her American citizenship and, although she spent most of her very long, productive life in Europe, at and before her death (in 1970) she donated many of her paintings to American museums. La France croisée, for instance, is in the Smithsonian. ©

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 02 May 2018, 13:06

Let your boat of life be light, packed only with what you need . . . someone to love and someone to love you . . . enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little bit more than enough to drink, for thirst is a dangerous thing. Jerome K. Jerome,

Spring has sprung and turned the thoughts of many to slapping mosquitos and self-slathering with sunscreen. Some think also of boating (e.g. ourselves on our little electric wonder), and those favored few should never go out on any water without reading Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (1889). It’s still in print, in many languages, so there can be no excuse. It will remind you to take the beer, one friend or more, and the dog if you’ve got one (Jerome’s was ‘Montmorency’), the better to be prepared for some light humor and nostalgia, for ‘on the water’ is a great place to think of absent friends and previous boatings. Our benefactor, Jerome K. Jerome, was born in Staffordshire on May 2, 1859, into what might have been mid-Victorian mid-prosperity, had not a decline in family fortunes put him collecting coal bits off railway lines for less than pennies. Still penniless, he moved into acting and then minor clerking jobs (he was quite literate) before his lifelong ambition (to be a journalist) took him out of obscurity. Jerome’s natural genre, he found (or the market found for him) was humor of the ‘this is my life’ variety, starting with reminiscences of his stage career, then (more in character) Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1886). That book, and an editing job, brought him prosperity and a wife, Georgina Henrietta, and a honeymoon on a little houseboat on the Thames. I was going to do the same with Paulette, in 1966, when Joe and Alvina Mattes (journalists who lived on a huge Mississippi houseboat) wisely talked me out of it. And perhaps—when he came to write his classic—Jerome quietly acknowledged the perils of houseboat honeymoons by changing Georgina Henrietta to his other friends, “George” (George Wingrave, then a bank teller) and “Harris” (George Hentschel, a London printer and publisher), and Montmorency the dog. And off they all went, floating gently on the current of life, apparently forever. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 03 May 2018, 13:08

You have to spend some energy and effort to see the beauty of math. Maryam Mirzakhani.

For reasons that did not include inattention but may have involved incomprehension, Alfred Nobel did not establish a prize in mathematics. In the 1930s the Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields convinced the International Mathematics Union that the gap should be repaired. First awarded in 1936, what is now called the Fields Medal is regarded as the math Nobel. It’s given every four years to up to four young geniuses (recipients must be under 40). The age limit is not to enshrine the belief that mathematicians burn out at 28 (or somesuch year) but to encourage winners to continue on their path, per ardua ad astra. In one case that did not happen, for one of the prize winners in 2014, Maryam Mirzakhani, had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. She died last summer. By all accounts an extraordinary person, and the only woman—so far—to win a Fields, Maryam Mirzakhani was born in Tehran on May 3, 1977. She learned much from her electrical engineer father and at a state school for talented girls, but by 17 she had outdistanced most of her teachers. Before she got to Harvard (for her PhD studies, 2001-04), she’d developed her characteristic approach, “questioning, always questioning,” and her inner temperament, an indefatigable optimism about conjectures and proofs that won her many friends and a mathematician husband, the Czech Jan Vondrák. Both taught at Stanford. Their little girl, Anahita, thought of her mother’s work as “painting,” and for those of us to whom it’s all Greek, that seems eloquent enough. Maryam Mirzakhani’s death was mourned in many places, not least Tehran, where several news organizations broke law and custom by publishing front page photos of Iran’s beautiful female mathematician, her very short hair completely uncovered, and Iran’s president praised her as a “creative scientist and modest human being” who would encourage all young people—girls included—to reach for the stars. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 04 May 2018, 13:34

Now since Miss Baxter has lived to see it erected, I hope by the students she will long be respected. William McGonagall, Scotland's worst poet, on the founding of University College, Dundee.

Dundee, Scotland, is now known for its marmalade, but in the 19th century Dundee was called “Juteopolis.” It could as well have been called Linenopolis, for in this unlikely northern place linen and jute ruled, mostly made into sailcloth (linen), rope (jute), and sacking (linen and jute). In linens, the Baxter family ruled. And then they spawned a brothers and sisters team of energetic, purposeful philanthropists. Eminent among them were the eldest son, Sir David Baxter (he was knighted late in life) and the youngest daughter, Mary Ann Baxter, born on May 4, 1801. Mary Ann lived quietly while David, in the 1820s, began the family’s long list of benefactions. But around about 1840 she joined in, both as a family member and as an heiress in her own right. A devout Congregationalist (her siblings were mostly Free Church), much of her munificence went to missionary efforts (Baxter River and Baxter Bay, New Guinea, are named after her), but increasingly she focused on Dundee and its environs. Together with her siblings she gave the city Baxter Park, 38 acres, and equipped it as a “pleasure garden.” She was herself generous to (or founder of) a sailors’ home, a boys’ home, a hospital, and several churches (of different communions). Mary Ann and her sister Eleanor also created a scholarship endowment to send Dundee’s brightest to Edinburgh University. But then, she thought, why Edinburgh? And after much talk (including over her insistence that the new university admit women and be non-sectarian) she emerged in 1881 as the principal founder of the University of Dundee. Her personal gift was £130,000 (about £15 million in today’s ££). And her surviving siblings chipped in a bit, too. Sometimes it seemed that Mary Ann Baxter was trying to give it all away. Alas, she failed, and was still worth almost £300,000 at her death, in 1884. I have no doubt that her shroud was of the finest linen. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 05 May 2018, 13:14

No. I’m much more likely to worry about a theorem when I’m with my children. Cathleen Synge Morawetz, asked if she worried about her children when she was at work.

One of the great mysteries of mathematics is that it can describe just about anything, either exactly or so infinitesimally close to ‘exact’ that accuracy itself becomes a moot point. One whose life’s work confirms that idea was Cathleen Synge Morawetz, born in Toronto on May 5, 1923 of Irish immigrant parents. The Synge family is eminent in Ireland for the literary achievements and promise of J. M. Synge, he of the Abbey Theatre and The Playboy of the Western World, but it was a family of many talents and her father and her uncle (and for that matter her mother) were mathematicians, her father as “a geometer of relativity.” He divided his time between Trinity College Dublin and the University of Toronto, and it was at Toronto that Cathleen was born and completed her undergraduate studies. This was in mathematics, despite her father’s perhaps whimsical fear that if she did major in his field they might quarrel. She married a Canadian chemist, Herbert Morawetz, and they decamped to the USA to complete their graduate work in their respective fields. It was a long marriage (they died last year, Kathleen—at 94—in August, Herbert—102—in October) and a happy one, and both are remembered by their students as bringing that cheer into their teaching (at NYU). Cathleen’s main work was in describing (and analyzing) “flow,” the behaviors of fluids, gases, sounds and even light, as they move naturally or as we might impel them to move. It seems all too esoteric until the next time you are up in an airplane, when the whole idea becomes intensely practical. Indeed, Kathleen Morawetz’s first important contribution (of very many) was to explain how a sonic boom might be generated as an airplane approached the speed of sound. Morawetz’s work took her to the top of her profession, brought her many honors, and she seems never to have quarreled—over mathematics, anyway—with her father, who himself lived to be 98. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 May 2018, 12:45

I never said I was a genius. Orson Welles.

Orson Welles, whose genius could have given us the right movie about Trump—and the lead role into the bargain—was born in Kenosha, WI, on May 6, 1915. As if recognizing what they had done, Welles’ parents promptly divorced, then sank into drink (father) or died (mother). For all practical purposes orphaned, Welles lived with a foster family and, aged 10, ran away with the daughter of the house, also 10, to be found singing for money in Milwaukee. Clearly the boy had a yen to act, and soon he was earning enough at it to survive, even in the Great Depression. But luckily for Welles, on his 20th birthday (May 6, 1935), FDR signed Executive Order 7034 (for the Works Progress Administration) and young Welles got involved with its ‘spin off’ Federal Writers’ Project, directed the “Voodoo Macbeth” (and acted in it, as Banquo), then helped to found the Mercury Theatre which put on experimental Shakespeare (e.g. Julius Caesar set in fascist Italy) and moved, fatefully the right word, to original radio drama, of which the most famous was undoubtedly the radio play War of the Worlds, staged so realistically (in 1938) that many believed an alien invasion had actually occurred. Welles then moved to Hollywood where somehow he wangled a free hand contract with RKO and produced his finest piece, the movie Citizen Kane (1941), not so loosely based on the megalomania of William Randolph Hearst. It is widely regarded as the best American film ever, and if you haven’t yet seen it, drop all previous engagements to repair the omission. There’s much else to see, too, notably his Harry Lime (The Third Man, 1949) and his Falstaff (in Chimes at Midnight, 1965). Welles would produce much brilliance, and act well enough, in a wild, up and down career that lasted until 1985. Welles’ huge accomplishments were probably outweighed by his immense potential. Would that he had lived long enough to ‘do’ Donald J. Trump. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 May 2018, 12:21

Samuel Courtauld, 1876-1947.

Home House, the magnificent Robert Adam mansion built—at the time of the American Revolution—for the Countess of Home, is now a private club offering dinner, drinks, accommodation, and exercise (if needed) to those who can pay its freight. But from 1932 to 1989 it was munificently public, the home of the Courtauld Institute of the University of London. It was thus a place of teaching (art history, conservation, and restoration); and it was the home of Samuel Courtauld’s art collection—or most of it—the in-kind portion of his benefaction. Courtauld was born on May 7, 1876, into a Huguenot family of silk manufacturers, serious about money and serious about life. By the time Samuel joined the firm (as a works manager), it had begun its transition to rayon, and as CEO he completed the shift and made Courtaulds into the world’s largest rayon manufactory. He was also a progressive employer, a friend of John Maynard Keynes and thus a devotee of government intervention in the economy, and not just after the Great Depression made intervention a necessity. Courtauld helped to midwife these ideas as a trustee of Nuffield College, Oxford, but along with his wife Elizabeth (Lil) his chief love was art. He worked with Lil to collect art, mainly impressionist paintings, and when she died he followed her wishes to give most of it (and a goodly cash endowment, and Home House) to London University. Courtauld also had a raft of friends in the art world, who loved him despite the sobersides personality that (among other peculiarities) drove him to refuse a baronetcy. Edith Sitwell, indeed, enjoyed talking with him because the contrast made her feel “unpardonably flippant.” Today, his art institute has moved to even grander quarters, at Somerset House in the Strand. But it’s still the Courtauld. And Home House? It may be compensation that its new drinks bar was designed by Zaha Hadid, but only to those who can afford it. ©

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 08 May 2018, 13:01

The cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since being shot by Booth was to have fallen into the hands of Carl Sandburg. Edmund Wilson.

Edmund Wilson was born in his family’s winter home in Red Bank, NJ, on May 8, 1895, and died in his family’s summer home in Talcottville, NY, in June, 1972. Not a year later, the summer house was put on the National Register of Historic Places, which, as one of the last acts of the Nixon White House, would have pleased Wilson for its ironies. In between, Wilson made himself into America’s leading literary critic, wresting that office (if it existed at all) from H. L. Mencken (whom he admired) and holding it against Lionel Trilling (whom he did not admire). Nor was he an armchair critic, writing only about what he couldn’t do. He tried his hand at fiction and poetry and did much better at scholarship, notably To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History (1940) and Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War (1962). And although his criticisms could be savage (sadly, a lost art), he also helped several writers to achieve better things, notably Edna St. Vincent Millay, Scott Fitzgerald, and Mary McCarthy. The last would contest that judgment. Their marriage, short (1938-1946) and unhappy, was stormy, sexy, and, in the end too time-consuming for her budding talent; her divorce court testimony shows her well shut of Edmund Wilson. He, meanwhile, steamed on, not so much reading books as devouring them. Wilson began at Princeton (where his father had been expelled, then readmitted), and moved quickly through journalism to criticism, first at Vanity Fair and then finally as one of the most frequent contributors to The New York Review of Books. He might even claim to be a co-founder, for its long, in-depth reviews were in his mode, but he will have to rest content with The Library of America, his scheme for publishing cheap, authoritative editions of America’s best (though not always best-loved) classics, even though it did not formally kick off until seven years after Wilson’s death. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 May 2018, 13:19

Life is rather like a tin of sardines - we're all of us looking for the key. Alan Bennett, in the comedy revue 'Beyond the Fringe,' circa 1960.

It’s a brave man who announces to friends at 5AM who his wife’s favorite author is, but I’ll take the chance. For Paulette, it’s Alan Bennett. It’s not that she hangs on his every word. She’s a busy woman and there are too many words, for Bennett has been miraculously prolific. But she still takes the London Review of Books because, occasionally, it prints yet another of his journal pieces, and for me, for years, a ‘Bennett’ has been a safe bet at Christmas and birthdays. For Alan Bennett it all began on May 9, 1934, in working class Leeds where his dad was a butcher in the local Co-Op and his mom was, well, odd. I think he found her oddities both attractive and alarming, and indeed it’s his uncanny knack at showing us all sides of his characters, the rich, astounding variability in each, that makes Bennett fans into fanatics. That ability was shown recently in The Lady in the Van, about an elderly, often odoriferous vagrant (Mary Shepherd) who occupied a small commercial van parked at Bennett’s London house—for 15 years. It was autobiographical, told several times (first a 1989 essay, then a 1990 book, a 1999 stage play, and a 2015 film), and it doubtless improved with its tellings, so that the vagrant’s character is displayed for us both mercilessly and with mercy overflowing, her tale told with pathos and humor. And then we discover, along with Bennett, that Mary was ‘really’ Margaret Fairchild, once a child prodigy concert pianist, a failed nun, an escaped lunatic. Those discoveries make Mary-Margaret neither nicer nor nastier, but she becomes a human being and in that sense rather like all of us. Bennett later said he allowed her to stay out of (his) laziness. If that’s so, then one would have to say that, in Alan Bennett, laziness was made a virtue. A virtuous laziness features also in my Bennett favorite, The History Boys (2004 play then 2006 film), but that’s another of so many Alan Bennett stories. If you haven’t read any of them, you should. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Tizer » 09 May 2018, 15:38

I like listening to Alan Bennett's voice. I particularly recall him relating how on Sundays his mum would make sandwiches and a flask of tea and they'd go to catch the bus, his dad carrying the flask in his coat pocket. The bus took them out of town into the countryside where they could walk and consume their picnic. It reminded me of my own early childhood in Blackburn when in summer we'd take the Wilpshire bus to the terminus then walk to the fields at Salesbury. Sometimes we'd stay there, other times we'd walk on through fields and down to the Ribble at Dinkley. The woods by the river were always carpeted with bluebells in Spring. It was a journey my father had often made as a child, but it would have been a tram to Wilpshire instead of a bus!

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 10 May 2018, 02:58

Image

Alan with Lord Charles Shuttleworth at the opening of the refurbished Gawthorpe barn at Padiham.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 10 May 2018, 13:29

Mending the fringe and spotting the dog.

The list of my faithful readers has just grown (to 230), and it’s a good time to reflect that faithful readers are essential parts of my daily exercise. They spot errors, and offer corrections to them. They disagree, and give reasons. Best of all they keep in touch. And sometimes they suggest important improvements, not correcting but polishing. Just this week, for instance, two faithful readers in England (one in Lancaster, one in the Midlands) offered a bit of polish. First of all, viz. my essay on Jerome K. Jerome, I now have the sad but needed news that Montmorency the dog was just a figment of Jerome’s imagination, and never a passenger on that famous boat. I had been misled by a picture of Jerome himself (later in life and clearly filled out with prosperity) accompanied by a spirited Jack Russell terrier. So the three men in that boat represented real characters, but the dog was a poetic invention. But what a brilliant name for a Jack Russell that would have been.
And then came Alan Bennett and the quote from “Beyond the Fringe.” I’d listened to the fringe’s skits, years ago, on record, but could not remember Bennett’s exact words when he took to the pulpit to sermonize about sardine tins. I knew what the internet offered wasn’t right, but offered it up anyway. Then came the amendment, and here it is:
"Life is rather like a tin of sardines. You open it up, you eat the richness that is inside - but there's always little bit left in the corner....Is there a little bit left in the corner of your life?"
So. No dog but better sardines.
I’ll send along today’s note when I write it.

Bob Bliss
*************************************

Most racing women . . . were mannish types in dirty overalls while I was bright and gay. Kay Petre, 1990, on BBC Radio 4.

The Brits, perhaps especially the English, tend towards reticence when it comes to their family lives, but our experience was that the stories eventually came, and when they did a common episode was ‘when our family got its first motor car.’ It seemed often to be an Austin, maybe an A40, sometime in the early 1950s. From this one might conclude that, before, motoring was very much an upper-class pastime. The comedy film Genevieve (1953) tended to confirm the notion. And so it was that car racing also became something of a class thing, the racing circuit (at Brooklands) becoming a spot on the social map. And pretty quickly it attracted lady drivers, ‘lady’ being the operative word. Among these perhaps the most famous was Mildred Mary Petre, aka the Hon. Mrs. Mary Bruce, her husband out of the earl of Elgin’s stables, who later went on to racing boats and airplanes. But there was also her sister-in-law, Kay Petre, whose devotion to the racing car was longer-lasting and of more effect. Kay was a bit of an outsider, wealthy enough but Canadian, born Cathleen Defries in Toronto on May 10, 1903. Her dad taught her to drive almost before she was weaned, but she trained up as an artist, her mother taking her to London and then Paris to learn from the masters. Two marriages brought a detour, especially the second one to Henry Petre (racer and flyer), and soon Kay Petre and her sister-in-law were making the society pages, and the motoring news, as race car competitors (in, of course, a ladies’ division). Kay Petre, pretty and very small, adapted her artistic sensibility to the task, powder blue overalls and helmet. Austin, sensing a good thing in Mrs. Petre, gave her a powder blue racing Riley and then a job, and after the war Kay Petre, as “color consultant,” helped to sell those Austin A40s to a wider social net. Including us, I guess. Unknowing, we bought a (very) used Riley 1.5 in January 1970, and it was (almost) powder blue. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 May 2018, 13:57

The art of meditation . . . can form an artificial solitude; retired amidst a crowd, calm amidst distraction, and wise against folly. Isaac D'Israeli.

Before Benjamin Disraeli—novelist and Prime Minister—there was Isaac D’Israeli who made it possible not by being Benjamin’s father but by being who he was: perhaps a more interesting man than his son. Isaac D’Israeli was born in London on May 11, 1766 of an ‘alien’ Jewish family that did not receive denizen status until 1801, the year in which his father became a founder member of the London Stock Exchange. Wealth was part of Isaac’s upbringing, and at 14 the boy was sent to Amsterdam to learn business from his father’s agent. He did well enough at mastering modern foreign languages, but instead of using these tongues in trade he devoured European literatures. Continued pressure from his parents produced only a satire on commerce and a panegyric on Dr. Johnson (Isaac’s first publication, in 1786). Other literary successes followed (delayed by his enthusiasm for the French Revolution), and in 1791 an inheritance from his grandmother rendered commerce superfluous. The inheritance, and a regular literary income, made marriage possible, and in 1802 he married Maria Basevi (from London’s Italian-Jewish community). Son Benjamin was born in 1804. Despite thus parenting a great genius of 19th-century British politics, Isaac went on to greater literary successes (including biographies and histories) and a developing network of friendships that was wide and, in political terms, wide-ranging. These friendships led, in turn, to a gradual estrangement and then (in 1821) divorce from the Bevis Marks Synagogue. It was a complicated business; Isaac D’Israeli argued rather for the emancipation of Jews from their “Palestinian” heritage than for their assimilation into English, Christian society. Nevertheless, from about 1816, he and Maria had their children baptized in the Church of England. Isaac went on to become a grand old man of English letters, from which vantage point—until his death in 1848—he benignly watched his son’s literary and political ascent—and cultural assimilation. ©

[I queried 'denizen status' and Bob replied;- "Denizenization is not a word, or else I would have used it. Nevertheless, denizen status (rather like the resident alien status we were granted in, I think, 1975) was given and withheld in early modern England, certainly to immigrant Jews and also, at least sometimes, to other groups. ]
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 12 May 2018, 13:47

"Cast your eye on me, gentlemen!—and lay low and hold your breath, for I'm bout to turn myself loose!" The man they call Sudden Death and General Desolation, in Life on the Mississippi, 1883.

The work habits of Sam Clemens, aka Mark Twain, should not be imitated, unless by geniuses: best described as episodic, intense, and accidental. But there was occasionally method in the madness, for instance the gazebo provided for him by his in-laws, the Cranes, at Quarry Farm outside of Elmira, NY. There (over several years) he composed most of Huckleberry Finn (1885), and there despite his childhood prejudices about black people Twain learned the sympathies that would give us Huck’s good friend Jim, an escaped slave and the novel’s heroic figure. A nice place to write. Even so, Twain couldn’t keep at the task, dropping “Huck” to decamp westwards where—for months—he relived his young manhood as a riverboat pilot on the mighty Mississippi. It was a lucky work break for us because he used it to fill out and polish some articles he’d written, years before, for The Atlantic magazine, and this exercise in writerly nostalgia would be published, on May 12, 1883, as Life on the Mississippi. It’s not a novel but—like Huckleberry Finn—it’s best regarded as “mostly” true, an artful reminiscence about youth, excitement, and ambition, by a man approaching 50 and still not quite sure of himself. I regard it as his second-best book, a sort of wet run for Huckleberry Finn, further experiments with the varied dialects and tall tales of riverine cultures, for instance the dredging of alligators (once dredged, an alligator never comes back). It’s boastful, too, and in exaggerating the captain’s status on the steamboat Twain enhanced his own. But it’s the great river, a fickle god personified, that makes the boasts stick in the memory, its snags, its changing course, its shallows (‘quarter-half twain,’ ‘half-twain,’ ‘mark twain’), its brown, roiling surfaces. In the end, as Twain’s friend William Dean Howells put it, Life on the Mississippi was so realistic that “it made the ice-water in my pitcher turn muddy.” Pour yourself some muddy water today, and break the book open. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 13 May 2018, 13:16

We all of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end. From Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier.

Cumberland Terrace, on the eastern side of Regent’s Park, London, is a rather majestic example of neoclassicism, designed by John Nash to complement the new palace of King George IV. Alas, that palace was never built. George IV died only four years after the first units of the Terrace were put on the market. His successors, William IV and then Victoria, occupied Bucks House instead (prettied up as it was by John Nash). But the Terrace was a desirable address, it was at No. 24, on May 13, 1907, that the novelist Daphne Du Maurier was born. Her father Gerald, a popular actor and generally successful theatrical impresario, saw to it that she was educated at home by a succession of governesses. Under his benevolent dictatorship, and at his wishes, she developed her talents as a writer and—she later felt—as an actor-out of her own life, and to some extent an actor-out of the characters in her novels and biographical sketches, notably of the ill-fated Branwell Brontë (The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë, 1960). Her 1932 marriage to a military man (Frederick Browning) brought a reprise of her tense relationship with her father, its complications expressed by long periods of living apart and her deep grief at Browning’s death in 1965. Daphne Du Maurier’s literary successes were many, beginning before her marriage with The Loving Spirit (1931) and continuing with (among others) Jamaica Inn (1936), Rebecca (1938), Frenchman’s Creek (1943), and My Cousin Rachel (1951). I mention those four because they were best sellers, and made into successful movies. Throughout, Du Maurier tortured herself with fears of losing her writerly powers and periodic bouts of self-doubt about her gender. Some of this surfaces in her novels, and in her life was expressed by a fascination, or perhaps obsession, with Jungian theory and with a “number 2 self” which had to be repressed and kept hidden from the world. She died in 1989. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 14 May 2018, 13:10

It is a sad reflection on our civilization that while we can and do measure the temperature in the atmosphere of Venus we do not know what goes on inside our soufflés. Nicholas Kurti.

The connections between science and cuisine and between physics and music have been obvious to me, although it could be only coincidence, or contingency. One might, however, begin a laboratory proof by looking at the life of Nicholas Kurti, born Miklós Mór Kürti in Budapest on May 14, 1908. A promising pianist, he took advice on a musical career from Béla Bartók. Later in life, he remembered the talents of a younger boy at his school, Georg Solti. But his school also produced Edward Teller and a knot of other brilliant physicists, and that was Kürti’s road. But when Miklós embarked on his PhD research at Berlin, Adolf Hitler forced a detour, and in 1933 he moved to Oxford, and became Nicholas. Visiting professorships aside, he stayed there for 65 years, the source of a zillion stories about his good humor, his polymathic interests, his self-deprecating modesty, and his astonishing successes in physics, mostly in low-temperature physics but also—during WWII—in matters of fission. When it comes to cooking, we have to consider his first recipe for low temperature work, in the 1930s, a magnet and solenoid cooled by liquid nitrogen. Forced by a low budget to do it himself, the young Kurti blew up his laboratory, collapsing a wall and shattering every window but somehow surviving himself to produce, in the 1950s, a world’s record low temperature (a few millionths of a degree above Absolute Zero). Ever the showperson, Kurti repeated his experiment on live TV (BBC, of course) in 1960. Nothing blew up, perhaps disappointing millions of viewers. As for ‘real’ cooking, Kurti was co-founder of the (annual) International Workshop on Molecular and Physical Gastronomy, friend and collaborator of chef Raymond Blanc, and, in 1988, the editor of But the Crackling Is Superb: An Anthology on Food and Drink by Fellows and Foreign Members of the Royal Society. Mere coincidence? I think not. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 May 2018, 13:44

Toys are children's words and play is their language. Garry Landreth

The original thought may owe to Webster, but it was Shaw who put it best: the USA and Britain were “two countries separated by the same language.” Living in England from 1969, we discovered that they were also separated by the same toys. I grew up with Lionel™ trains and Erector™ sets, and was disoriented to find (instead) Hornby Railways™ and Meccano.™ Meccano and Erector illustrated Shaw’s point: almost identical in their underlying strategy, in their grammar so to speak, they were different in working detail (vocabulary). Of course I speculated, idly, on which came first. If you’re curious, it appears that Meccano begat Erector, but that Hornby may have copied Lionel. It’s as interesting that both Meccano and Hornby were the offspring of one man, Frank Hornby, born in Liverpool on May 15, 1863. His parents were of the commercial classes, but in employment he never rose above shipping clerk. At home he had a workshop, and there he tinkered with toys, really basic toys, metal strips, connecting pins and nuts, and the more he tinkered the more elaborate the system became. Thus was born Meccano™ (first patent, 1901) and its marketing strategy (ever more complicated sets capable of ever more complicated constructions) was born out of Frank Hornby’s progress in that little home workshop. In 1908 Meccano became a limited company, and by 1914 it was big business, a home plant in Liverpool (employing 1200 workers) but also manufactories in Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, and New Jersey. (Frank established Hornby Railways in 1921, then Dinky Toys™ in 1933.) Today, who came first is a moot point. In 2000, Meccano—by then a Franco-Japanese enterprise—bought Erector, and now across the world both boys and girls (a point underlined in advertising) can build the damnedest things from the simplest components, just like Frank Hornby in that home workshop. The model railways went different routes, and that’s a different story. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 16 May 2018, 13:04

Although it be not a fit thing for me to appoint officers in my College, yet knowing by my Statutes that I have reserved it unto myself . . . Dorothy Wadham, announcing the new officers of Wadham College, Oxford, 1611.

It took ‘Oxbridge’ a very long while to accept women’s colleges and even longer to grant university posts (for the colleges’ fellows) or degrees (for their students). But that had never stopped either place from accepting women as founders of colleges, as illustrated by the benefactions of Dervoguilla Balliol (1263, Oxford) and Frances Sidney, Countess Sussex (1596, Cambridge). Being an heiress helped, but as the college career of Dorothy Wadham showed, women required more than wealth to make their wishes into mortar and stone, fellows and students. We’re not sure of Dorothy’s birthdate (sometime in 1534/35), but she lived long enough to found Wadham College (1610), and by the time she died (on May 16, 1618) she’d made quite sure that Wadham would survive her. Dorothy was, by all accounts, a woman of both backbone and guile. She’d had training. Her father, William Petre, had survived three regime changes as royal secretary (from Henry VIII to Edward VI to Mary and then Elizabeth), remained Catholic, and yet kept his head and his estate into the bargain. Then Dorothy’s husband, Nicholas Wadham, also maintained loyal ties to the Old Church while outwardly conforming to the new and building on her dowry and his inheritance to become one of England’s richest men. The couple was childless, and when (in 1609) Nicholas died Dorothy followed his wishes about an Oxford benefaction, but not to the letter. Her wishes elicited a strong legal challenge, which she survived by engaging eminent lawyers (including the Speaker of the Commons) and then keeping them to her tasks. Nor did Dorothy stop with legal victory. She wrote the new college’s statutes, chose many of its fellows, named its master and even its cooks. Full circle: Wadham College admitted women as students in 1973, and has just gained planning permission to build Dorothy Wadham Hall, a new residential facility that will house 135 students (coeducationally). ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 May 2018, 13:05

Geology has its peculiar difficulties . . . settling the character of rocks, which can be judged of while they are in situ only. Amos Eaton, 1824.

Anyone who might care to excavate these ‘anniversary notes’ will find one on William Smith, b. 1769 in Oxfordshire, who despite his humble background invented modern geology with his maps—1799 et seq—of Britain’s underlying strata. Smith’s knowledge grew mainly from his work as a surveyor in England’s expanding canal system. Soon, in the USA, the digging of the great Erie Canal (1817-1825) presented a similar opportunity to read the earth’s biography, an opportunity seized by Amos Eaton, born in rural New York on May 17, 1776. Eaton also began his great work with a handicap, though not one of humble origins. Rather, he was jailed in 1810 for forgery in connection with his law practice. He may have served his sentence in one of America’s first reform-minded jails. For in prison Amos Eaton returned to the subject that had fascinated him as a student at Williams College, the natural world. Released in 1815, Eaton moved to New Haven and, at Yale, continued his study of natural philosophy, then embarked on a whirlwind of publication that included, ultimately, geological surveys of most of the counties through which the Erie ran. Eaton had also, in 1817 and as a result of boyhood collecting, prison reflections, and Yale tutoring, published a Manual of Botany for the Northern States. His lasting fame, however, owes to the imaginative zeal he brought to science and science education, fighting to add science per se to American college curricula and playing a leading role—intellectually, the leading role—in the founding of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1824. Eaton was also a pioneer of American extension education, bringing science education to farmers in the Hudson River Valley and along the ‘water level’ route of the Erie Canal. RPI today hosts not only the Amos Eaton Chair, an endowed professorship, but also Amos Eaton’s actual chair, given him by his students in 1839, both fitting memorials for an ex-con. ©
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