BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Nov 2017, 11:46

When the poor give to the rich, the devil laughs. Benvenuto Cellini, Autobiography, circa 1570.

It was the wrong Bloom (Howard, the over-heated publicist for pop music, and not the sublime critic Harold) who connected William Shakespeare to Benvenuto Cellini. It would be an insight had not the wrong Bloom (in The Genius of the Beast, 2010) got Cellini’s dates wrong by a century. For Benvenuto Cellini (who was, among many things, an over-heated publicist) was born on November 1, 1500, and was not (QED) a man of the 14th century. Cellini might have been a model for Romeo and Juliet, not the tragic Romeo but the equally tragic Mercutio, and for family feuds in Florence rather than in Verona, but I’m not sure whether Shakespeare read Italian. Cellini’s autobiography was not translated into English until 1822, when its impact was considerable (e.g. on Hawthorne, Melville, and Twain). But Cellini first appears in the public records as a youth banished from Florence for mixing it up in inter-family warfare. And he didn’t calm down much in exile. His restless life took him to Rome (and the patronage of Medici popes), and Paris and Vienna, among other places, before returning to Florence and the patronage of the civilian Medicis. And everywhere Cellini left behind him glorious works of art. For the wrong Bloom got one thing right about Cellini, and that was that he was a Renaissance man. He’s remembered today for his sculptures, many of them exquisite miniatures, his jewelry, and his silver and medals, but he was also a soldier, an architect, and not a bad hand with the flute. Besides his art he left behind him lovers (of both genders), victims (he was a revenge-killer), and many court records, for his loves and his murders kept getting him in trouble just as his art kept getting him out of it. And, of course, we have his Autobiography, in several translations and many editions. One edition (from the 1946 translation by J. A. Symonds) is subtitled The Prodigious Self-conceit of Accomplishment. And so say all of us. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 02 Nov 2017, 10:37

No one trusts a model except the man who wrote it; everyone trusts an observation, except the man who made it. Harlow Shapley.

Our human perspectives changed when Copernicus figured out that Planet Earth was not at the center of the solar system. That “Revolution” happened in the 16th century, but it took time to sink in. A more radical step in our education happened in the 1920s, when a debate among astronomers proved that we were not even at the center of our galaxy and, more unsettling, that our galaxy (aka “The Milky Way”) was nowhere near the center of a universe that might be infinitely large (or infinitely expanding). One of the participants in that debate was Harlow Shapley, born in a little house on the prairie on November 2, 1885. His town—Nashville, MO—scarcely exists even today (pop. 396), but then it was easy for a little boy to drop out of school, which Harlow did when he was 10. Later, at 17, Harlow changed his mind and, largely self-taught, whizzed through high school in record time, then went to the U of Missouri to learn journalism. As so many have found, that class was full, and Harlow started with the “A” majors to choose an alternate, couldn’t spell Archaeology, and settled on Astronomy. Soon he had a Princeton PhD and a job at the Mt. Wilson Observatory. There, building on Henrietta Leavitt’s work, he used alterations in star luminosity to measure distance, and told us where we were (or were not) in the Milky Way. Leavitt was herself a pioneer, as a woman at the Harvard Observatory, and later, when our prairie lad became the director at Harvard, he not only repented his errors about the extragalactic universe but also ended the sexism had kept talented women (like Leavitt) on as mere “computers” and thus advanced the careers of several female scientists, including Cecilia Payne and Helen Howarth. Harlow Shapley also became president of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, an influential writer, a leader in progressive politics, and a pioneer theorist of climate change, so we could use him today, but he died in 1972. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 03 Nov 2017, 11:03

Privilege is an unjust and immoral thing to have. But if you've got it, you might as well use it. Walker Evans.

In the week that President Trump announced his plan to redistribute America’s wealth to the rich, let’s remember one of the great photographers of the American poor, Walker Evans, born on November 3, 1903. Another reason to remember Evans is that he was born in our fair city, St. Louis. From here he percolated eastwards and left Williams College to spend some time in Paris with the “Lost Generation” before returning to a bohemian existence in New York City where he lived and worked in company with the likes of Hart Crane and John Cheever. Indeed, Evans’s first published photos were of Brooklyn Bridge, in Hart Crane’s poetry volume The Bridge. We know Evans best as the collaborator with James Agee on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, an understated, respectful portrayal of three farm tenant families—now known to have been the Burroughs, Tengle, and Fields families—in Alabama. Evans died in 1972, willing all his photos (and copyrights) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If you haven’t yet Agee’s text, or looked at Walker Evans’s famous photos, this is a good week to amend the oversight. Here’s Allie Mae Burroughs’ portrait, taken by Walker Evans in 1935 in Hale County, Alabama. ©

Image
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 04 Nov 2017, 11:56

Monarchy is government through the medium of passions and accidents. Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, 1791.

Monarchy as a system suffers many frailties, not least the human unpredictabilities: deaths, births, divorces, infidelities, et cetera ad infinitum. It’s a gambler’s paradise, and when (as in 17th-century England) you add a couple of revolutions, a beheading, and a thoroughly reactionary “Restoration,” it can get chaotic. But knowledge about a single day (November 4) can help you to sort out the Stuart monarchy. Start with November 4, 1631, and the birth of a daughter to King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. Princess Mary Henrietta she was, and in the tangled state of British and European politics she was a hot property, so hot that she was married off at age 9. The lucky groom, 15, was Prince William, the Protestant heir of the Prince of Orange. Their union was not quickly consummated, (at least some decencies were observed) but on November 4, 1650, came from it a boy, Willem (William), who two days later (on his father’s death), became Prince William of Orange. Meanwhile, the little boy’s grandpa had lost his head, but his uncle Charles would be “restored” to the British thrones in 1660 (as King Charles II), and his uncle James had produced a (barely) legitimate daughter, Mary, in 1662. So this little baby, Mary, was Prince William’s cousin, for both were the grandchildren of Charles I. Little Mary was raised a Protestant, as was her Dutch cousin William, and soon it was thought a good political move to marry them off, which occurred on November 4, 1677, at St. James’s Palace where, just 46 years before, Mary’s aunt (and Prince William’s mother) had been born. When Mary was told who she was to marry, “she cried all afternoon and all the following day.” She cried at her wedding, too. It turned out to be a reasonably happy (if childless) marriage, and when Mary’s father (and William’s uncle) was deposed in the last, “Glorious,” revolution of the century, the couple became King William III and Queen Mary II (got it so far? There would be more.) ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 05 Nov 2017, 14:03

One man may sweeten a whole time. Allston's memory is the quince in the drawer and perfumes the atmosphere. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, remembering Allston, 1859.

For the USA, political independence meant that, sooner or later, the new nation would also seek to declare its cultural independence, especially from things British. One of the more obvious expressions came in 1828 with the first edition of Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language. A major contributor to the Americanization of both literature and art was Washington Allston, painter and poet, born in South Carolina on November 5, 1779, but translated into the New England elite when his widowed mother married Henry Flagg of Newport, RI. Named after the hero of the Revolution, and conscious of that, Washington Allston distinguished himself at Harvard (as class poet) and then sailed to Europe to learn how to be an artist in oils as well as in words. The irony in his life was that in order to become a cultural leader of the new nation, one had first to become cultured, and Allston learned his painting at the Royal Academy (from another American, Benjamin West) and improved his poetry by becoming friend and sometime disciple of S. T. Coleridge. Even so, in the years he spent mainly in Europe (1801-1818), Allston made or cultivated American connections. His lifelong friendship with Washington Irving began when they met in Rome, and he married (in 1808) Ann Channing, William Ellery Channing’s sister. After Ann died (in Europe) he would marry her cousin, Martha Dana, daughter of the Massachusetts chief justice and sister of Richard Henry Dana, another avatar of American cultural independence. Thus the couple became “Martha and Washington,” a neat naming trick, and together with their good friends Emerson, Hawthorne, Fuller, Peabody, and Ripley they would become leaders of a very American version of the Romantic Movement. Allston died (while painting, in his studio) in 1843. His bones rest in a very American way in the Dana plot of the Old Burying Ground, close by Harvard Square, Cambridge. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Nov 2017, 14:10

I blew a whistle, and the first game of basketball began. It certainly was murder. James Naismith, January 31, 1939.

In 1939, shortly before his sudden death from a burst blood vessel, James Naismith gave an interview for a New York radio station wherein he recounted the birth of basketball. He had told the story before (and would again in a posthumously published memoir), but this one was recorded. And it was a disaster (the first game, not the interview). Naismith blew his whistle to start the game (at the Springfield, MA, YMCA, in December 1891) and “it certainly was murder.” He’d been directed to invent the game by his supervisor, who wanted to keep YMCA athletes in shape during the winter, and the boys went at it with a vengeance. One player was knocked out, several suffered painful injuries, and there were too many black eyes. Naismith’s 13 rules, posted in the gym, needed some amendments in order to stop the mayhem. And the game caught on with astonishing speed. James Naismith, born of Scottish immigrants in Lanark County, Ontario, on November 6, 1861, parlayed his invention into a lifetime job at the University of Kansas where he would virtually invent the idea of an “athletic program” (and, indeed, invent the position of Athletic Director). Of course KU became, and remained, a basketball powerhouse, but it was Naismith’s protégé Forrest Clare “Phog” Allen who (as Kansas coach nearly forever, 1919 to 1956) accomplished that. Naismith was the only basketball coach in KU history who compiled a losing record (55 wins, 60 losses, over 9 seasons). But Naismith enjoyed greatly his fame as the game’s inventor. In 2015 the NY Times ran a great picture of Naismith (aged 67, outside on the KU campus) holding aloft a peach basket while his wife, Maude, takes a shot. Naismith never made much money, as befitted an ordained Presbyterian minister, but in 2010 that 1891 rule book sold at auction for $4.3 million and now—gifted by a grateful alumnus—resides in a magnificent basketball museum on the KU campus at Lawrence. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Nov 2017, 11:40

Under the pressure of this competitive fury we have not only forgotten what is useful to humanity as a whole, but even that which is good and advantageous to the individual. Konrad Lorenz, Civilized Man's Eight Deadly Sins, 1973.

Strange behaviors in the White House have given new lease to old speculations as to whether mindless aggression is a dominant trait in humans. Nowadays, with nuclear codes also resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., it’s a pressing question, but it has long been so, and in the 1930s a paper on the subject brought its author, an Austrian ethologist, to the attention of leading Nazis. He would later participate, at some level, in some disgusting Nazi experiments on the suitability (for sterilization or selective breeding) of Polish-German “half breeds.” That would indelibly stain his life, but he turned away from it “in horror,” and we can thus also remember him as the kindly, eccentric old duffer who led wild geese on strange chases around playgrounds and pastures. He was Dr. Konrad Lorenz, born in Vienna on November 7, 1903. His was a comfortably middle-class upbringing, even indulgent in the way his parents—vacillating between amusement and alarm—encouraged his proclivity to bring home a parade of animals that—whether domestic or not—he treated as pets or companions (each one, he later said, more destructive than its predecessor). Meanwhile, at his father’s wish, he trained as a medical doctor, but on the side his observational “animal diaries” indicated his real ambitions, and shortly after his medical degree (1928) came a PhD in zoology (1933). Among other discoveries which arose from his childhood habits of close observation, Lorenz became famed for his studies on “imprinting,” offering himself up to recently hatched ducklings and goslings who would then regard him as “mother” and follow him almost anywhere. He returned, too, to his early speculations on aggression, but now by way of discovering ways to channel it into productive, positive, beneficent courses. For his work (on geese and other species) he was awarded the Nobel for Medicine in 1973. For this, he hoped, his worried father might finally be pleased. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 08 Nov 2017, 12:19

I did not think. I experimented. Wilhelm Röntgen.

Today we pay homage, or perhaps lip service, to the quaint notion that knowledge is free at the point of use, and in doing so remember the German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen who on this day, November 8, 1895, noticed something going wrong with his cathode ray experiment, thought it had potential but couldn’t figure it out, and called the error the “X-Ray.” ‘X’ for “unknown”, of course. Röntgen is altogether an interesting case. For various reasons (e.g. his school education in Holland and a proclivity for practical jokes) judged unqualified for any German university, he went first to Zurich, won his doctorate, and returned to Germany where he held several chairs. It was at the University of Würzburg that he made his experimental error. He did further work on the “X-Ray” at Würzburg, then at Munich, and by 1901 was adjudged sufficiently ahead of the game to be awarded the very first Nobel Prize in Physics. There were several other interesting things about Röntgen; for instance his youthful intention to move to Iowa, an idea fatally at odds with his passions for mountaineering and for a Strasbourg café owner’s daughter named Bertha Ludwig. But whatever his thoughts about Iowa, Wilhelm Röntgen really did think that truth lies open to all, or should: “verum omnibus pateat” it might be in Latin. Röntgen donated the whole of his Nobel Prize award to his university. And despite urgings from others, he never patented his ‘X-Ray machine’ or the devices he invented to take ‘X-Ray” pictures. It’s also interesting that Röntgen soon sensed the potential dangers of his inventions and insisted that people working in his labs be protected with leaden shields. That one took a lot of other people a lot of time to figure out, and a lot of deaths, too. It might even be that there was some connection between Röntgen’s protective attitude towards his lab workers and his unconcern with personal profit. Röntgen himself died in 1923, of intestinal cancer and therefore possibly of his research ‘accident.’ ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 Nov 2017, 14:03

The cry of the oppressed has entered into my soul, so that while I live I cannot hold my peace. Elijah Parish Lovejoy.

Elijah Lovejoy was born in the state of Maine on November 9, 1802, and shot dead in Alton, IL, two days short of his 35th birthday, November 7, 1837. Educated at Colby College, Lovejoy was part of the great move westwards of New Englanders. Most of those migrant Yankees settled north of the 40th parallel, gradually embraced anti-slavery, and left the landscape littered with small liberal arts colleges. Lovejoy moved further south, walking all the way to St. Louis, where his religious conversion, his experience of working with slaves, and his ordination (at Princeton) as a Presbyterian minister moved him to the more radical position of abolition. Lovejoy returned to St. Louis, established an abolitionist newspaper, and roused a mob led by Thomas Hart Benton who declared that the right of free speech did not include speaking against slavery. Lovejoy moved his paper to Alton, in the free state of Illinois. There he continued to publish, preach, and teach against slavery, despite threats of violence, When he ordered a new printing press, the mob determined to throw it into the Mississippi, and Elisha Parish Lovejoy was shot dead trying to save his press. In the capitol at Springfield, an obscure state representative by the name of Abraham Lincoln spoke in memoriam and against mob violence. In same year, another New Englander who had walked to St. Louis, my great-great grandfather John Estabrook, married into an abolitionist family at Liberty Prairie, IL, and (according to family tradition) into their Underground Railway business. Across the North, Elisha Lovejoy became a martyr for free speech and abolition. Much later, those 40th-parallel Yankees would vote Abe Lincoln into the White House, and the resulting crisis (or “failure to compromise”) would give the redoubtable Jesse Benton Frémont the chance to compensate for her father’s pro-slavery violence by playing a leading role in keeping California in the Union. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Nov 2017, 03:35

Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no fibs. Tony Lumpkin, in Act Three of She Stoops to Conquer by Goldsmith.

Oliver Goldsmith is not the only Irishman with a monument in Westminster Abbey, but he may be the only one whose Abbey epitaph was coined by Samuel Johnson. It’s a fine tribute, in Latin, and it finishes: “In genius, vivid, versatile, sublime. In style, clear, elevated, elegant.” The good Dr. Johnson might have added, “in life, careless, and in death, early,” for Oliver Goldsmith was only 45 when he perished of a neglected kidney infection. He was born, he said, on November 10, 1728, in Ireland where his father was a clergyman in the (Protestant) Church of Ireland. At Trinity Dublin Oliver was about as undistinguished as student as you can be and still graduate, for there he learned dissipation, undergraduate style, and showed a remarkable talent in getting out of trouble. After Trinity Goldsmith spent nine years rolling around Europe, studying a bit, drinking and gambling more regularly, and at times financing himself by playing his flute (the instrument seems to have been his only constant companion). Then Oliver Goldsmith fetched up in London where, it appears, he intended to carry on as he had begun but failed. Instead, and luckily for posterity, his undeniable talents found him a circle of friends that included Johnson, Edmund Burke, and Horace Walpole. These helped him find occasional employment (as a schoolteacher!!) and were just the sort of contacts Goldsmith needed to make brief but exceptional careers as a writer (essayist, playwright, poet) and also, it must be said, as himself. Not everyone loved him, though. He seems to have made Johnson’s Boswell grind his teeth and lose his patience, and Walpole’s epithet on Goldsmith (that he was an “inspired idiot”) is ambiguous if affectionate; but Oliver Goldsmith’s short London career left us much good writing and a few masterpieces, notably the comedy She Stoops to Conquer and the long, lovely poem, “The Deserted Village.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Nov 2017, 14:56

Prompt and brief/ We carry up our wounded one by one./ The first cock crows; the morrow has begun. Laurence Binyon, "Fetching the Wounded."

November 11 is Armistice Day, the eleventh day of the eleventh month whereon at the eleventh hour the “Great War” ended. And on Armistice Day we remember Laurence Binyon, born in a double-fronted house on High Street, Lancaster, England. Binyon, after a double First at Cambridge, spent most of his life at the British Museum, where he became director of the division of prints and drawings. He did creditably there (wrote much about the collection and organized memorable special exhibits from it), but he became better known as a playwright, poet, and theorist of a non-theistic spiritualism. Withal, he was “the best loved man in London” (Ezra Pound, 1909) and a “wise, poor, and incorruptible lover of truth and beauty . . . who knew how to be both warm and detached” (Cyril Connolly, in a 1943 obituary). Among other things, he worked for a revival of poetic drama, accompanied (as in Shakespeare’s time, by music) and it was none other than Edward Elgar who set the music for one of his plays (Arthur, staged at the Old Vic in 1923). His wide circle of friends was made wider still by visiting professorships at Tokyo, Athens, and Harvard. His birthing day was not, however, November 11, but August 10, 1869. It is good to remember Laurence Binyon for his war poetry, suffused as it was by its vivid senses of loss and grief and pain, and not only on the battlefield, nor only in the field hospitals (where Binyon served, 1915-1918), but “in the still presence of far homes/ Lost in deep country, and in little rooms/ The vacant bed.” (“Fetching the Wounded”). And Binyon’s “For the Fallen” is today being recited, yet again:

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning.

We will remember them. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 12 Nov 2017, 14:06

O brethren! It is easier to chide at sin, than to overcome it. Richard Baxter.

Standing in the churchyard of St. Mary’s, Kidderminster, is a magnificent statue of Richard Baxter. It catches him preaching, fair enough since he was famous for it, and given the stone figure’s stance one easily imagines the sermon to have been declamatory. The inscription, dated 1875, notes that Baxter lived “in a stormy and divided age,” and that “Churchmen and Nonconformists united to raise this memorial.” Again, fair enough: Baxter’s time (he was born on November 12, 1615) was indeed tempest tossed (two revolutions separated by an exceedingly reactionary “Restoration”), and he did urge calm and unity and comprehension. So it’s easy to assume that Baxter would have been pleased by his statue and by the ecumenicism that lay behind it. But Baxter did not urge toleration, and he would have first wished to inquire in the bona fides of those Victorian churchmen and nonconformists, for he was an exacting theologian who, having been offered (1661) a bishopric in the restored Church of England, turned it down as inconsistent with his conscience. Thus, even though he had been appointed as chaplain to King Charles II, Baxter turned himself out of the pulpit of St. Mary’s or, indeed, any Anglican pulpit, and chose for himself a life of illegality and near treason, for he continued to preach and to publish his message. He was imprisoned several times, then, in 1685, came before the terrible Judge Jeffreys who wanted him whipped but instead (Baxter was then 70) imposed a crushing fine. Baxter’s moral message, encapsulated in The Saint’s Everlasting Rest (1650), long outlived his persecutors and became, in its 18th-century abridgement, a manual of Methodism and, in the 19th, one of the most popular of Protestant devotional tracts. It was referenced in the statue’s inscription, and I found it among my great-grandfather’s books, so when I started researching Baxter I was, so to speak, ready for him. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 13 Nov 2017, 11:38

An ancient origin of the Borders Railways "Blueprint for the Future."

It has been suggested that we should rename the industrial revolution as a revolution in industriousness. We learned to work harder, and we also learned how to cobble things together, seize main chances, and not—somewhat like the cat in the adage—let I dare not wait upon I would. A small part of restoring the accidental nature of the industrial revolution is to realize that railways (in mining but also for freight and passengers) predated the steam locomotive. By the early 19th century, in Scotland, railway construction was big business, and several lines were designed by James Jardine, engineer extraordinaire. Born on a Dumfries farm on November 13, 1776, his mathematical talents brought him to Edinburgh where he taught the mysteries to the sons of the gentry (including the future Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell), but by 1810 he’d also set up as an engineer. He specialized in hydraulics, canal building, and supplying good water. Soon he was building horse-drawn railways (and, thus, memorable bridges), most famously the “Innocent Railway” from Dalkeith to Edinburgh. Wikipedia calls the line a coal-carrier, and it was that, but as a horse-drawn railway it tallied up more passenger miles than the pioneer steam operation (1831) between Liverpool and Manchester. Jardine used a stationary steam engine to draw passengers up the incline to the Edinburgh terminus, and the railway did adopt steam locomotion in the 1840s. By that time Jardine had moved on to other engineering tasks. Borders Rail now wants to reopen the Innocent Line—along Jardine’s original route and using his lovely bridge at Glen Esk, for some years now restored for pedestrians and cyclists. The cost of the restoration has been immense (to voluntary societies and local councils), but Borders wants to buy it for just £10k, thus proving that the ingenuities of the industrial revolution are still alive and well in Scotland. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 Nov 2017, 05:38

In a rude state of society all great calamities are regarded by the people as judgments of God on the wickedness of man. Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, Vol. 1.

Charles Lyell was born a Scottish gentleman’s son on November 14, 1797. This secured him a private income (augmented by a good marriage), but more importantly a model for life, for his father was not one to rest on his inheritance but became an ambitious gentleman scholar, a well-known linguist (translator of Dante) and an accomplished botanist (who had several mosses named after him). Charles followed his father by study in England (though Oxford rather than Cambridge) and then the Inns of Court. So he became a Scots lawyer on the English circuit. But if law was his planned profession, a youthful interest in geology soon overtook him, and for a lifetime governed his travels (mainly in Europe and North America), his reading, and his thinking. His magnum opus was Principles of Geology (3 vols., London, 1830-3), and it was also his life’s work for as he encountered new data (through his travels, his reading, and his correspondence) he proved generally ready to modify his ideas, though not his central thesis. This was that today’s earth (its mountains, its valleys, its steppes, its oceans, its accumulated layers) was the product of its own past, and not of a series of deus ex machina catastrophes. His principles, gradualism and uniformitarianism, rested on and required a belief that the planet was unimaginably old, and although Lyell’s imagination didn’t stretch to today’s 4+ billion years it did provide sufficient space and time, a large enough landscape so to speak, for Charles Darwin to speculate on an equally slow and uniform explanation for the speciation of living things. Indeed the young Darwin took the first volume of Principles with him on HMS Beagle (vol. 2 caught up with him in time for a Chilean earthquake); and when Darwin returned to terra firma Angliae his and Lyell’s friendship proved firm enough, and one might say scientific enough, to survive Lyell’s unwillingness to fully endorse Darwin’s views on evolution. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 Nov 2017, 14:21

It is very probable that the great stratum called the Milky Way is that in which the sun is placed, though perhaps not in the very centre. William Herschel.

Having noted Caroline Herschel and the barriers she broke to become an astronomer, I must note her brother William, who broke almost as many. William Herschel was born in Hanover on November 15, 1738 and came to England in 1756 as a military bandsman. He settled permanently in 1762 and enjoyed success as a musician (performer and composer), mainly at Bath. There he gathered several of his siblings to work with him. By the time Caroline arrived (1772) William had become fascinated by astronomy, and went at it in unorthodox ways. Not wealthy enough to buy state of the art equipment, he constructed his own telescopes, and through tireless experimentation and many failures, crafted instruments that alone might have made him famous. But also, new to the science, he turned his attention to the stars, rather than (as had been the fashion) the solar system. Though he would discover Uranus and its moons, and basically define the asteroid belt, it was Herschel’s observations of the distant universe, stars and what were thought to be nebulae (he thought—correctly—that they might be distant galaxies), that won him lasting fame, a fellowship in the Royal Society, and the rather unusual position of being, not the Astronomer Royal, but the local astronomer-tutor for King George III (also, of course, a Hanoverian) and his family. And so in 1782 William Herschel and Caroline established themselves close to Windsor (first at Datchet and then at Slough), both of them with royal pensions (William’s at £200, Caroline’s—much later—at £50), and further £££ from a grateful monarch for building newer, bigger, and indeed better telescopes. Among other things, through his tireless observations and brilliant calculations, Herschel began to build a modern understanding of the extent (and the age) of the universe. His epitaph (1822) at Slough church says it well, Coelorum perrupit claustra (“he broke through the barriers of the heavens”). ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 Nov 2017, 03:14

My object [in teaching kindergarten] was to put children in possession of all their faculties. Mary Peabody Mann, 1869.

One well-thumbed book on my parents’ shelves, Louise Hall Tharp’s The Peabody Sisters of Salem, is now one of the best buys you’ll find in used book shops. You can find a good run-down of its publication history on the “Neglected Books Page.” It was well reviewed, and the publisher printed quite a few copies. But in 1950—save perhaps at 203 Zwart Road—readers were not ready, or at any rate not eager, to examine a family wherein the women far outshone the men. There were three sisters, Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia, and Mary Tyler Peabody (the middle sister) was born on November 16, 1806. Both parents—genteel but poor—brought the girls up to be somebody, and Mrs. Peabody—a schoolteacher—was the main source of income. At home and at school, Mary became fluent in three modern languages and at 18 was judged ready to teach school (in Hallowell, ME). She then taught in Boston (with Elizabeth), then sailed to Cuba to be English governess for a coffee plantation family. Along the way, she met Horace Mann, who was looking for a woman of strongly held opinions, and she may have stolen him away from Elizabeth. As Mary Peabody Mann, she raised three children—all boys!!—and supported Horace’s pioneering work in public education and as a college president (and she left us a treasure trove of correspondence on various topics), but Mann’s shadow passed in 1859 and, widowed, Mary once again moved in with Elizabeth. Together the two sisters made their own way and built their own reputations. Elizabeth stuck mainly with education, in which Mary supported her elder sister as, before, she had supported Horace, but Mary’s main fame was literary, as an essayist on a variety of topics, a writer of books for children, a translator (notably from Spanish-American texts into English), and a defender of the rights of Native Americans. Mary Peabody died in Elizabeth’s house in 1887. I will get to Elizabeth and Sophia in due course. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 Nov 2017, 14:32

The Screaming Sisterhood of Sudbrook Hall.

One of the more remarkable women of the British aristocracy, and one who would, through her second marriage, have a glancing relationship with the American Revolution, was Lady Caroline Campbell, born 400 years ago on November 17, 1717. She was the eldest daughter and the principal heir of the 2nd Duke of Argyll, eminent courtier to the Hanover kings. Caroline’s godmother was the Princess of Wales, soon to be Queen Caroline. The Campbell boys having died off, Caroline and her sisters were brought up indulgently in their own wing (“The Young Ladies’ House”) of the Duke’s English seat at Richmond Park. Indulgently indeed: they were known as “the bawling Campbells” and “the screaming sisterhood.” But they were also very eligible girls, and as eldest and heir (and quite beautiful) Caroline was much courted. She fell in love with an English peer, one not to her father’s taste, and instead fell into an arranged marriage with the son of the Duke of Buccleuch, Earl Dalkeith. Still weeping, she married him in 1742, found him agreeable, bore him four sons and two daughters, and lost him to smallpox in 1749. Meanwhile (1743) her father had died and, though excluded from his entailed Scottish title and estates, she inherited his extensive English properties (in Richmond, Greenwich, London, and Oxfordshire) and thus became a force in her own right. It was a role she quite enjoyed, but in 1755 she married again, a younger man, second son of an English peer, Charles Townshend. She would bear him four children and cheer his efforts (as MP and minister) to entertain the House of Commons with his coruscating wit and load the American colonies with intolerable taxes. He died suddenly, rather to colonists’ satisfaction, just weeks after the imposition of the Townshend Duties. Caroline Campbell lived on, a peerless peeress (suo jure Baroness Greenwich) to 1794, outlasting eight of her children and, of course, both her husbands. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 Nov 2017, 12:46

every boy and every gal // That's born into the world alive // Is either a little Liberal // Or else a little Conservative! Iolanthe, Act II. 1882.

When Charles II was ‘restored’ to kingship in 1660, things French became popular in London, including the travesti, a miserable but funny burlesque of a well-known play or opera. And it was via this first meaning of the word “travesty” that William Schwenck Gilbert became, if not famous, then well enough known to make the acquaintance of Arthur Seymour Sullivan. For in 1860s London, Gilbert’s “travesties” (including burlesques of operas by Donizetti, Bellini and Weber) were the talk of the town. More daringly, Gilbert did a “respectful perversion” (!!!) of a Tennyson poem. That took nerve, and being the son of a surgeon wealthy enough to abandon the knife in favor of the pen probably helped. Sir W. S. Gilbert, or as we know him today the libretto half of Gilbert & Sullivan, was born in London on November 18, 1836. He tried to get into the Crimean War (had he succeeded, he might have ended as the subject of a Tennyson poem), then trained half-heartedly as a barrister, before finding his métier in words, writing for Punch, reviewing for the Times and the Observer, and as I say concocting various travesties. He also wrote several successful pantomimes and farces, even serious dramas (one inspired by Silas Marner) before entering into an on again off again but wildly successful partnership with Arthur Sullivan. Early on they saw to the stage Trial by Jury (reviving an earlier Sullivan piece), H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance: Or, The Slave of Duty, and The Sorcerer . These were so successful that, in 1881, Richard D’Oyly Carte opened a new theatre mostly for Gilbert & Sullivan, the Savoy, so these classic comic operas (or, if you prefer, travesties) are known as the Savoy operas and often performed by the D’Oyly Carte Company. Along the way, Gilbert made himself into a country gentleman and a JP who, unsurprisingly, did not always take seriously policemen’s evidence. He was knighted in 1907 and died in 1911. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 19 Nov 2017, 14:23

In our age the appeal to authority is weak, and I am of my age. Allen Tate.

Allen Tate is in eclipse these days, and some would say rightly, citing his racism in particular. But he’s worth knowing about, for his creativity and his criticism, but also and overall for his understanding of the importance of memory. Allen Tate’s abiding memories happened to be Southern, and with a capital ‘S’, and indeed he was born in Kentucky, on November 19, 1899. He tried making a living at the violin and then at coal, but in the end the literature bug—he had been bitten while at Vanderbilt—got him, and he became best known as poet, critic, teacher, and commentator. I know for his single novel (The Fathers, 1938), a meditation on history as vouchsafed to us by memory, recommended to me by a Welsh memoirist. At college a “Fugitive,” Tate became a leader of the “Southern Agrarians,” a dozen southern writers who self-consciously proclaimed (in I’ll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition: 1930), a critique of modern industrial society and a (rather uncritical) defense of southernness. It attracted its critics (including southerners like Howard Odum), and several of the Agrarians repented or drifted away from its blindnesses on race, on slavery, and on poverty. In the 1930s Tate publicly condemned some of the Agrarians’ fascism and, later, recanted his own anti-Semitism and racism. As critic/teacher Tate was also mentor and/or friend to an interesting (and politically varied) roster of writers, including Hart Crane, Malcolm Cowley, Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell, and John Berryman (not to mention Warren and John Crowe Ransom from the Agrarians’ stable). Passionate about the South he may have been, but Allen Tate spent most of his working life at the North, including a term as America’s Poet Laureate, and then latterly at the University of Minnesota. He moved South in 1966 to a third marriage, a very late fatherhood, and in the end (1979) a safely southern cemetery. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 Nov 2017, 12:47

I'd Do It Again. Title of James Curley's autobiography, published in 1957. The title's reference is to the closing scene in Edwin O'Connor's very fine 1956 novel, The Last Hurrah, based loosely on Curley's life.

James Michael Curley was born in Roxbury on November 20, 1874. His parents were dirt-poor Irish immigrants (Michael and Sarah, both from County Galway) who afforded him two models for life. Sarah was a “scrubber”, cleaning floors in offices and churches throughout Boston, back-breaking labor at unsocial hours and miserable pay, but unfailingly generous to her children and her poorer neighbors. Michael worked hard enough by day, laboring where labor was needed, but nights and weekends he served the Democratic machine of the ward boss, “Pea-Jacket” Maguire, finding votes for the boss by finding jobs for the boys. In his own life James Michael Curley would embrace both models, making the seemingly contradictory into (for him and for those who voted for him) an organic whole. Curley wasn’t worried about white privilege but about Boston Brahmin privilege, about ‘no Irish need apply,’ about grinding poverty, crappy education, dead-end jobs, crime and punishment, poor health and early death, in short, about the lives of his people, the Boston Irish. His career began in the state legislature then shifted to his Roxbury ward and on to four terms as mayor (each for four years, beginning in 1914, 1922, 1930, and 1946), governor of the state and congressional representative. His politics were corrupt in a time when honesty served best the rich and powerful, and the people loved him enough for his dishonesty to reelect him again and again, once at least while he was in prison and despite some fascistic undertones. Curley’s most satisfying wins were among his last, twice defeating (1942 and 1944) the very Brahmin Thomas Eliot, grandson of a Harvard president, lawyer, leading Unitarian, and a New Dealer of impeccably liberal credentials, with unconscionable attacks on Eliot’s alleged communist sympathies and by wrapping himself in the cloak that Eliot thought his own birthright, 100% Americanism. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 21 Nov 2017, 14:07

Once the grammar has been learned, writing is simply talking on paper and, in time, learning what not to say. Beryl Bainbridge.

If you want to know what “brief and to the point” means, read one of Beryl Bainbridge’s umpteen (by count, 20) novels. After finishing a manuscript, her revising process was to take, say, eight or a dozen pages and reduce them down to one. Then she would say, echoing Voltaire, that if she’d had more time she’d have shortened it still further. She wanted to get it right. She wrote also to expunge the demons of her childhood. Beryl Bainbridge, one of the best of novelists, was born in Liverpool on November 21, 1932. Her middle-class mother and self-made father reacted to the privations brought on them by the Great Depression by blaming each other for them. Beryl escaped into writing from age 10, but that was metaphor. Her ‘real’ escape was to disappear into the theatre, where (aged 16) she started on props but finished as a reasonable actor, including a minor part in Coronation Street. By that time (1961) she’d had three children by two husbands, divorced one, was abandoned by the other, tried suicide, converted to Catholicism, kept the children close, and begun again to write. After several failures she was taken up by Duckworth & Co. and, in view of her necessities, put on a retainer rather than commission. She made enough from her “salary” and occasional gigs at screenplay and TV to keep her children well and populate her north London (Camden) house with grotesqueries (a life-size Neville Chamberlain, a stuffed water buffalo, and a growing collection of female saints in plaster or oils that, in her later years, she liked to be photographed with) and keep herself in whisky and cigarettes, both of which she quite liked. Her fiction won much praise and many prizes, but never the Booker (she was shortlisted five times!!!), and encouraged her to move over to commission contracts. Beryl Bainbridge died in 2010 leaving a legion of friends, a set of quite enviable obituaries, and a worthy reading list. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 22 Nov 2017, 12:21

Sally, free and easy //That should be her name //Took a sailor's loving //For a nursery game. Cyril Tawney (1930-2005) "Sally Free and Easy"

I taught the folk singer Cyril Tawney in two of his years at Lancaster and, later, spent a delightful weekend with him when he performed in Chicago in June 1981. Cyril came to university to build an academic context for his already successful career (he once told me that the royalties from “Sally Free and Easy”—written in the late 50s and recorded by, inter alia, Bob Dylan and Marianne Faithful—might keep him for life), and among his sources was Cecil Sharp. Sharp, unlike Cyril who was born to it, came late to folk music when, convalescing at his mother’s in Headington, Oxford, a group of Morris men performed in the front garden. Entranced, Sharp asked one of the musicians to return, transcribed six of his songs, and the rest is folk music history. Cecil James Sharp was born (November 22, 1859) into a family wealthy enough to send him to private school and Cambridge (he studied maths), and then resolute enough to send him to an Australian bank where, they hoped, he would shed his musical interests (then entirely classical) in favor of money. It didn’t work, and by 1889 Sharp was fully committed to music (as performer and teacher) and Fabian socialism. The fateful encounter with the Morris dancers occurred in 1902, and for the next 22 years Sharp devoted himself to collecting, transcribing, performing, and publishing music from selected English folk traditions (and also from the Appalachian diaspora of the Scotch-Irish). His Fabianism may hint at the fact that he was a bit of a Pecksniff, or more accurately a Bowdler, for he edited out words he thought too rude, too rough, for the otherwise ennobling qualities of listening to the “folk.” Sharp also disliked working-class and sea-chanty “folk,” so chances are that he would not have approved of Cyril Tawney, who began with sea songs, whose own song-language could be quite pungent, and who was quite catholic in his definition of “folk.” But Cyril tolerantly approved of Sharp. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Tripps » 22 Nov 2017, 12:40

We live and learn (again!). I never heard of this chap, but I know nearly everyone else who is mentioned in a google search for him. Can't understand how I missed him. I know of Cecil Sharpe, Mr Bowdler, and even Mr Pecksniff. :smile:
Born to be mild. . .

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 23 Nov 2017, 03:40

There was a codicil from Bob this morning.....

A friend from WAY back (Wisconsin and Oxford!!) sent an enlightening and rather charming note on Cecil Sharp, and I feel I should share it. Dick Lewis, the writer, is himself a distinguished folk singer (and a scholar of old and middle English). I believe I last heard Dick sing at The Trout, in the Spring of 1970. Not the famous Trout by Godstow meadow, just on Oxford, but the “other” Trout a few miles up the Thames. His performance was well received by a jolly crowd at quite a jolly (and rather beautiful) pub, all those years ago. I dare say that he might have sung one or two songs recovered or recorded by Cecil Sharp—but I am not a folk singer and I wouldn’t have known then, nor now.
Dick’s note contains a small correction, which was that Sharp was transfixed and transformed by those Morris dancers in 1899, not 1902. I got my information from the Dictionary of National Biography but Dick’s should be taken as read. And the earlier date is better, for it gave Sharp 25 years, rather than just 22, to remake, or recreate, the map of English (and some American) folk music.
While I am at it, please accept my best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving. And if you don’t celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving, anyway. When Paulette and I come to it, we will do a good Boxing Day, even though we no longer celebrate it . . . .
Thanks, Dick!!! Bob
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 23 Nov 2017, 11:35

If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking on creation thus, I should have recommended something simpler. Attributed to Alfonso X of Castile.

The idea that monarchs were a breed apart was sustained by a remarkable marriage market among medieval royal houses. Alfonso X of Castile, for instance, could claim at his birth (November 23, 1221) direct descent from many royal lines, including (naturally) Castile but extending east into Burgundy, Aquitaine (and thus England), Swabia, Navarre, France, and Rome, and west into Portugal. His surviving children married just about as widely, including his illegitimate daughter Beatrice whom he spliced to the King of Portugal (another Alfonso) who added to being Alfonso X’s cousin the lesser dignity of having been deposed by him in war. Alfonso of Portugal had to marry Beatrice of Castile in order to get his own throne back. But what made Alfonso X of Castile more remarkable was his wide learning. In a fairly long life (63 years, not bad for his time and a minor miracle for a king-warrior), Alfonso made important contributions to law, literature (he is seen by some as the father of the Castilian supremacy in vernacular Spanish), history, and music. He also involved himself in science, notably astronomy. This interest grew partly out of Alfonso’s fascination with astrology, a common tic among medieval monarchs, but it’s lasted because (very uncommonly) Alfonso drew into his court circle both Jewish and Arabic scholars. Thus Alfonso became familiar with ancient Greek and Roman texts, and he set himself (or, perhaps, his court scholars) to work out the mathematics of the Ptolemaic universe. Since—as we now know—Ptolemy was wrong, this presented a dauntingly complex mathematical challenge, and Alfonso’s results (known as the Alfonsine Tables) are credited by some for thus laying the basis of Renaissance astronomers’ (Copernicus, Galileo, et al) dismantling of the Ptolemaic model. Alfonso is alleged, indeed, to have criticized the Creator for being too clever by half. Another model, Alfonso thought, would have been simpler. ©
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