BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 24 Nov 2017, 11:13

Now all I have to say for myself is that you know, as to love, one is not mistress of one's self, and that you ought not to be offended with me, since all things of this nature as at an end with you and I . . . Barbara Villiers to King Charles II...

The creation of the Bank of England (1696) and the discovery that the crown’s debts were negotiable currencies that could be bought and sold as sources of income and influence helped England (after 1707 Britain) become a great world power. As later generations of radical pamphleteers would point out, they were also badges of lost innocence. Not that English politics was ever ‘innocent,’ but government itself, once was a smallish affair, was now become Leviathan. The debts that William & Mary, and then Anne, carried (1688-1714), debts that would have crushed their Stuart forbears, enabled them to wage constant war on Louis XIV, the Sun King. Hidden away in the accounts, in the Civil List, was further evidence of lost innocence, pensions still being paid to at least two of the many mistresses of King Charles II, wayward uncle of both Mary and Anne. Among these ‘official’ mistresses, perhaps the most successful (in Civil List terms and nearly in respect of longevity) was Barbara Villiers, baptized in London on November 27, 1640. Barbara had connections and married respectably enough (a royalist lawyer named Palmer, in 1659), but at 19 she’d already established herself as a woman with a roving eye and a passionate nature, so she was ready for Charles II when he was restored to his father’s throne, and she bedded him perhaps a fortnight after he entered London in 1660. In 1661 she bore him the first of several children, all acknowledged by the king with a passel of dukedoms and ladyships. Barbara (herself made Duchess of Cleveland) stormily maintained her official position until the arrival (in 1671) of another long-lived royal mistress, Louise de Kerouaille, known unkindly as “the French whore.” Among Charles II’s and Barbara Villiers’ later “royal” descendants were Bertrand Russell, Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and the famous Mitford girls. Blood will tell its own story, even on the wrong side of the blanket, but then so will the national debt. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 25 Nov 2017, 11:28

He makes a harmony of the contrasts of impetuosity and inaction, of pensiveness and passion, of amiability and irony. A critic on Charles Kemble's Hamlet, Covent Garden, London, 1835.

Charles Kemble, born November 25, 1775, was perhaps the least naturally talented of a remarkable family of theatrical players and managers. He was an eleventh child (of twelve) and his elder brother and sister (John Kemble and Sarah Siddons) sent him away to France for a gentleman’s schooling (at Douai). Charles played at the gentleman role for a short time, but soon was on stage (first in Sheffield, 1792, as Orlando, and then in London, 1794, as Malcolm), For years he played such roles while his brothers and/or sisters took the leads. John in particular took Charles in hand and subjected him to close and exacting instruction for well over two decades. During this time Charles married (the Viennese actress Maria Theresa de Camp) and produced several children, including Frances (‘Fanny’), famed for her own acting, her disastrous marriage to an American planter, her anti-slavery Journal (1863), and her later, more productive friendship with Henry James. Fanny met Pierce Butler in Philadelphia while on tour with father Charles, mother Maria, and a Kemble sibling or two. Charles’s American tour (a great success other than losing Fanny to a drunken tyrant) indicated not only his coming of age as an actor (he was finally beginning to take lead roles) but also as a theatrical manager, producer, and playwright, both “on tour” and at Covent Garden where—thanks to his brother’s generosity—Charles was one-sixth owner. But by this time Charles was already in his 60s and his “farewell” from acting (as Benedick in Much Ado about Nothing) took place in 1836 . Charles’s tutelage, then, had been a very long one. Some, notably theatrical rivals, charged that he’d always traded on his name, but most thought him, instead, very worthy of that name. In his deafness, Charles turned away from the stage to public readings of Shakespeare plays (including one, Cymbeline, at Buckingham Palace in 1844 for the young Queen Victoria). ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 26 Nov 2017, 16:32

I'm not going to die, I'm going home like a shooting star. Sojourner Truth.

When in 1799 New York enacted its emancipation law there were 21,000 New Yorkers still enslaved, about the same number as in the first US census (of 1790). That was about 6% of the total population, a significant proportion that had been higher in the colonial period. Many slaves and even more free blacks (over 3000) had taken advantage of the long British occupation of New York City (during the Revolution) to become free loyalists rather than enslaved patriots. Upriver, the British rarely ventured, society was more stable, and slavery more entrenched. Among the enslaved were James and Elizabeth Baumfree and their eleven children, including Belle, born in (we think) 1799 and enslaved. Indeed, in 1806, on the death of her owner, Belle was sold at auction (along with some sheep) for $100, then sold again in 1808, then yet again in 1810. By that time she’d learned English (her first language was Dutch) and had learned too that she was to be free (“sold no more”) after July 4, 1827, and soon her master, John Dumont, promised her that she could go early. Along the way, she had a child by Dumont (or his brother), and four others after she married a fellow slave. The freedom promise broken, she “walked off” with her youngest child, and became a free person. Beyond that, she became a noted abolitionist, as she saw it a “witness for freedom,” and on June 1, 1843, having experienced a new birth in Methodism, Belle Baumfree changed her name (and why not??) to Sojourner Truth. It was a striking name, and she was a striking person, involved in American controversies both as an abolitionist and as an advocate of women’s rights. Militant and unafraid, gaunt and black, she continued to campaign for equality until she died—and we do know her death date, which was November 26, 1883—but Sojourner Truth is on the calendar of saints for the Episcopal Church for July 20 and for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America on March 10. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Tizer » 26 Nov 2017, 16:49

Stanley wrote:
26 Nov 2017, 16:32
Belle was sold at auction (along with some sheep)...
It's bad enough being sold at auction but to be thrown in almost as a freebie with some sheep is even worse...

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Nov 2017, 04:50

:good:
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Nov 2017, 11:48

Women try hard to live down to what is expected of them. Elsie Clews Parsons.

The picture of Elsie Clews Parsons in the on-line Britannica has her at the helm of a pretty large sailboat, apparently on course and at sea, but she’s very stylishly attired (dress, open overcoat, pendant necklace, cloche hat) and therefore seemingly out of place. But she wasn’t. Like her sister New Yorker Edith Jones (Wharton), Elsie Clews (Parsons) was born to the metropolitan purple (in New York, on November 27, 1875), like Edith, the best clue (pun intended) to Elsie’s New York pedigree was her maiden name, and like Edith she would publish books that were severely critical of her class. But while Wharton wrote fiction, Elsie Crews Parsons wrote social science. After private schooling, she attended Barnard (BA 1896), then went across the gender line to win a PhD at Columbia (Sociology, 1899), and in 1900 married an eminent laywer, Herbert Parsons, confidante of Teddy Roosevelt and soon (1904) elected to congress. Progressive though he was, Parsons was still an eminent New York male person, and Elsie Clews Parsons’ first book, The Family (1906) was frank enough about its subject to embarrass him. So, unlike Wharton, Elsie Parsons went pseudonymous (as “John Main”) for her Religious Chastity and The Old-Fashioned Woman, both published in 1913. But she soon returned to herself in Fear and Conventionality (1914), Social Freedom (1915), and Social Rule (1916). Her next on-line pictures (on a CUNY social science website) show Elsie Parsons in true setting, roughly dressed in her true garb, field clothes and crumpled hat (but that same pendant is still there) in the New Mexico desert, for she would become an anthropologist, leading student of the Pueblo, Hopi, and Zapotec cultures (most notably in Pueblo Indian Religion, 2 vols., 1939), and indeed the first woman president of the American Anthropological Association. Her Journal of a Feminist, however, would not be published until 1994, in the “Subversive Women” series. Indeed. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 28 Nov 2017, 13:40

The idea behind structuralism is that there are things we may not know but we can learn how they are related to each other. Claude Lévi-Strauss.

When I was in graduate school, two works by Claude Lévi-Strauss (and their English translations) were hot off the press and regarded as hot stuff. They were La pensée sauvage (The Savage Mind, 1966) and Le cru et le cuit (The Raw and the Cooked, 1969). I tried to read one of them (The Raw and the Cooked) but got a lot more pleasure out of the other, for it was borrowed to name (punningly) a rather good red by an Englishman, a friend of a friend, who’d resettled in the south of France and taken up the wine making trade. Alas! “Pensées Sauvages” is no longer made but Claude Lévi-Strauss lived on almost forever and his works continue to provoke controversy. He was born in Brussels, November 28, 1908, but his father (a portrait painter) soon moved back to Paris where Claude was well-schooled. At the Sorbonne he read philosophy, passed his agrégation, married an anthropologist, and while in Brazil with her did field work with rainforest peoples. How deeply he went into it is a matter of controversy, but he acquired important ideas. These he took to a New York exile (during the war) where, working in anthropology with Franz Boas and linguistics with Roman Jakobson, Lévi-Strauss developed structuralist theories of culture. These first saw the light of day in his two doctoral theses, submitted (back in Paris) in 1948. Of these the most important was the “major” thesis, in English The Elementary Structures of Kinship. His theories were too complex for me and certainly so for a short note, but they are centrally concerned with how language—specifically, the language of myth and stereotype—“works” to give definition to cultures and to their constituent units. Lévi-Strauss lived long enough to become the grand old man of the French intellectual establishment, and long enough, too, to decide that the world was going to hell in a handbasket. He was, he said in 2009, aged 100, glad to be leaving it, and he promptly left. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 29 Nov 2017, 11:06

No surer criterion for determining species has occurred to me than the distinguishing features that perpetuate themselves in propagation from seed. John Ray, The History of Plants, 1686.

If there was a ‘scientific revolution’ in the 17th century (and we might as well call it one), then one of the leading revolutionaries was John Ray, born on November 29, 1627. That was just a few months after the death of Francis Bacon, Viscount St. Alban and first theorist of the revolution, but Ray’s circumstances were radically different, for he was the humble son of the village blacksmith at Black Notley, in Essex. That was Puritan country, and blacksmiths were among the “industrious sort” who became Puritans. Puritan philanthropy got John Ray into Cambridge where the upsets of the Civil Wars and Ray’s brilliance won him fellowships at Trinity (successively in Greek, Mathematics, and Philosophy!!!) and a collection of administrative posts. Come the Restoration of monarchy, hoping to retain his posts (and hoping for an inclusive religious settlement), Ray took holy orders, but the national church opted for revenge rather than charity, and ejected John Ray from Trinity. He married, tutored sons of his patrons, and in due course returned to Black Notley where he devoted the rest of his long life (he died in 1705) to science. Indeed, Black Notley may have been a better place than Restoration Cambridge to experiment and publish in science, and the new Royal Society proved way more tolerant than the Church or the universities, for Ray was elected a society fellow in 1667. Ray was above all else a botanist and might have been the first of the parson-scientists (in a more tolerant national church). As it was, he left us with a good (and strikingly “modern”) working definition of natural species, deficient mainly in Ray’s belief in the essential and eternal invariance of species: “one species never springs from the seeds of another.” It would take two centuries for that one to be exploded, and in the meanwhile Ray’s work would inspire and guide the great subsequent classifications of plants and animals, notably those of Carl Linnaeus. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 30 Nov 2017, 12:12

A sane view of life is, after all, elaborated mainly in the kitchen. Joseph Conrad.

All the while we lived in Britain, we wanted an “AGA” cook stove, solid fuel or gas, but we never got together the time, space, and cash to install one. Naturally we thought of them as British made (an Aga plant still thrives, I think, in Smethwick, near Birmingham). But the Aga was invented by a Swedish farm kid, Nils Gustaf Dalén, whose inventive streak won him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1912, well before he figured out the Aga. Dalén was born near Gothenburg on November 30, 1869, and in his teens started to revolutionize the family farm, inventing a milk fat tester, setting up a market garden and starting a seed shop. He might have stayed down on the farm, but his milk tester brought him to the attention of a Stockholm inventor-capitalist (named Laval, he of the automatic milking machine) and won Dalén a sponsored education and a Physics PhD (in 1896). Soon Dalén invented the fuel, the device, and the process that won him the Nobel, an automatically run gas light that saved 90% on fuel costs and produced an intense white light. It was used in lighthouses, worldwide, for decades. He also became managing director of the Swedish Aktiebolaget Gasaccumulator Company (or AGA for short), very much a hands-on director. In 1912, as he experimented further with gas pressure devices, an explosion blinded Galén for life. It was while he recuperated at home that he thought up the Aga cooker, in his blindness hearing—rather than seeing—the amount of work his wife Elma Persson had to do just in order to keep the kitchen stove going. A kitchen cooker with more mass, more controlled air intake and more complex air passages, Dalén thought, would use fuel more sparingly yet give heat more generously. And so the Aga was in production, in Sweden, by 1922, in Smethwick ten years later, and it is sold in St. Louis today, now in several elegant versions and three sizes. All of them thanks to a clever farm lad and his milk tester. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Dec 2017, 14:02

The limits within which economics can be relied on for precise guidance are very narrow indeed. Eric Roll.

One of my more difficult undergrad courses was Douglas Vickers’ “History of Economic Thought,” a course made more challenging by my mathematical darknesses and Vickers’ Himalayan standards. The challenges were made pleasanter, if not easier, by Vickers’ strong belief in economic democracy and by the textbook, Eric Roll’s The History of Economic Thought. Many students found it dry. I was entranced by its treatment of monetary theory (more accurately of plain old money) and its pessimism about the powers of economic analysis. Eric Roll himself was a fascinating character, a child of the old Hapsburg empire (born in what is now western Ukraine on December 1, 1908) who became one of Britain’s leading civil servants (usually at the Treasury, sometimes at the Foreign Office) and by 1963 (when I took the course) “Sir” Eric Roll. He would later become Baron Roll of Ipsden and a senior partner of Warburgs, and was still working at Warburgs when he died at the age of 97. At Roll’s death it was said that he had made more friends in his careers (there were at least three careers) than most people made in one, and indeed his patience and good humor made him an invaluable civil servant. His mastery of seven languages helped, and Prime Minister Edward Heath (who believed Roll could lip read in French and German) asked him to play a lead part in the negotiations for the UK to join the Common Market. Roll rebounded from that bad experience to serve the Labour governments of Wilson and Callaghan, where he proved able to get along with the irascibly drunken, mercurial George Brown, Deputy Prime Minister and then Foreign Secretary. After 1977, Roll’s other careers retiree beckoned, and until 2005 his presence brightened the bank and the academy (as president of the Policy Studies Institute). Roll’s life proved that economists can have fun, and indeed I did enjoy Douglas Vickers, Vickers’ tutor Eric Roll, and their economic thoughts.©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 02 Dec 2017, 11:56

It took us 23 days to cross on a fruit trader and, of our convoy of 75, only 32 ships arrived in Liverpool. Sir John Barbirolli on his first wartime voyage to Liverpool.

Italian immigrants brought ice cream to Britain. By 1850 Carlo Gatti sold it from a London street cart, and his ilk spread north to Scotland and west to Wales where the stuff is still known as gelato. Their cry “gelato, ecco un poco” led them to be called “hokey pokey men,” testimony to the Brits’ facility at mangling other tongues. But there were other Italians, too, including the violinist Lorenzo Barbirolli whose son Giovanni was born in London on December 2, 1899. Giovanni, known to the world as John Barbirolli, would surpass his father’s fame to become, first, a prodigy at the viola, and then one of the world’s great maestros, conducting in London, New York, Glasgow, Vienna, and Houston (among other places). But Barbirolli will forever be associated with the Hallé at Manchester where he took a three-year contract in 1943 and then stayed until his death in 1970 (in 1968, though also contracted at Houston, he was made the Hallé’s conductor laureate). Barbirolli began on the violin at age 4 but soon shifted to the cello. He made his first public appearance as soloist in the Queen’s Hall, London at the age of 12, and by age 16 was playing in London under Sir Thomas Beecham. He served in WWI, then resumed the cello in peacetime, but as a military musician had found a passion for conducting. There followed a long period of freelance conducting (in opera and orchestral music) and then from 1929 contracts with Covent Garden, with the Scottish Orchestra (now the Royal National Scottish Orchestra) and the New York Philharmonic (he replaced Toscanini) before returning to Britain (twice, once, in convoy, 23 days on a banana boat). The first time he conducted benefits in Liverpool and visited his mother. Second trip, Barbirolli took up the Hallé post and there, despite the war, he achieved the impossible, expanding the orchestra, extending its repertoire, and rebuilding its reputation. For Sir John Barbirolli, “ecco un poco” proved to be a very great little. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 03 Dec 2017, 13:19

I should like to sit to Stuart from the first of January to the last of December, for he lets me do just what I please, and keeps me constantly amused by his conversation. John Adams.

David Lovejoy always regretted the primitive state of early American portraiture, for in his colonial history lectures he liked to describe the persons he talked about. There weren’t many portrait painters in the colonies, and too many of them went up and down the seaboard with “blanks,” figures already painted, and all they had to do was to fill in the faces. No wonder their subjects always look a little nervous. “Have we counted the silver?”, they seem to say. “Why did we let this stranger into our parlor?” But as fate would have it, by the time the colonies became a nation and had heroes to paint they had a few painters up to the task. Among them, Gilbert Stuart is best known today. Stuart was born in rural Rhode Island on December 3, 1755 (the house still stands) but moved to wealthy, sophisticated Newport where he learned a bit of painting (from a traveling Scotsman), perceived a market, and at 20 (while embattled farmers were firing memorable shots at Concord Bridge) Stuart decamped to London to learn more, from an American-in-exile, Benjamin West, and to become a sought-after painter in Britain. He also learned expensive habits and found a wife, the brave and patient Charlotte Coates, before he and his family returned to America in 1793. There he began the most extraordinary career of painting a great many of the ‘founding fathers’ (and not a few mothers). Among his subjects in Britain had been George III, so of course in America he sought out our own George, Washington that is, and painted him several times. The most famed of these, and in itself sufficient reason to remember Gilbert Stuart, is the great “unfinished” portrait of 1796, which still graces our dollar bills. Stuart lived long enough to do all our first six presidents, several of their wives, and many other heroes and heroines of the republic, but death (Stuart’s, in 1828) drew the line at Andrew Jackson. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 04 Dec 2017, 12:05

I am not in love with her, but I feel for her a genuine and tender attachment . . . Jacques-Rose Recamier on his bride, circa 1793.

Classical sources (art and text) confirm that the favored furniture for drinking parties (symposia) in old Athens was the chaise longue. The Romans refined it and—as our favored name for it suggests—the French made it their own. The French also refined it and produced varied models, one of which is known as the récamier. It’s named after a rather remarkable woman, une Lyonnaise by birth, who came to Paris at age 7 and, not counting her exiles, stayed for 64 years, at times (through her salons) influencing the city’s political, artistic, and literary life, plotting with both Bonapartes and Bourbons, and inviting speculation about her unusual marital and extra-marital lives. She was by birth (December 4, 1777) Jeanne-Françoise Julie Adelaide Bernard, known generally after her marriage as Mme. Juliette Récamier, the wife and by rumor also the daughter of a banker, Jacques-Rose Récamier. Whatever the rumor (that Récamier married his daughter to make her his heir), the marriage was never consummated, and Juliette remained virginal for decades. So it wasn’t exactly sex that drew so many to her salons, although her famous portrait by Jacques-Louis David (1800) makes that seem at least a possibility. Certainly many came, Bonapartist courtiers like Count Bernadotte and Bourbon plotters like Madame de Staël, to be welcomed by a surprisingly shy Juliette and to converse politely about the affairs and the arts of the day. After Juliette Récamier returned to Paris from her Italian exile (in about 1815) she held salons almost to her death, despite growing poverty, and were it not for the cholera epidemic of 1849 she might have survived long enough to plot against yet another Napoléon and his Second Empire. And, yes, that “récamier” chaise longue, a double-ended affair looking a bit like an elegant boat, was immortalized by the David portrait. You can see it online or, next time you’re in Paris, at the Louvre. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 05 Dec 2017, 13:02

We have to show that the wider scope of knowledge and the severer training of the intellect may strengthen and enrich a woman’s life . . . Elizabeth Agassiz, 1896 Commencement Address, Radcliffe College.

Sometimes second best has to be good enough, and so in 1894 those who had hoped to entice Harvard College to admit women students accepted a “separate but equal” solution, the chartering of Radcliffe College (by the state of Massachusetts) “generally to furnish instruction and the opportunities of collegiate life to women, and to promote their higher education.” The enticement had included some significant real estate in Cambridge and $150,000 (over $4 million in today’s $$$), but Harvard wasn’t buying. It was a great disappointment to Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz, who’d been working for full coeducation at Harvard for two decades, but she nevertheless accepted appointment as the first president of Radcliffe College, a post she held until 1899. Her tenure might have been longer but she was already well stricken in years, having been born on December 5, 1822. Her wealthy parents decided that their frail child would be educated at home, and so she was. Her elder sister’s marriage to a Harvard professor brought Elizabeth into a new social circle and into contact with the Swiss geologist Louis Agassiz. After his first wife died, Elizabeth and Louis married and she fully adopted his three children. Elizabeth also served as Louis’s research assistant and became an accomplished natural historian in her own right, continuing his work after he died in 1873. Meanwhile, and with Louis’s support, Elizabeth had begun her own experiments in female education, first with a school for girls in the family home and then, in 1879, as the leader of the Society for the Private Collegiate Instruction for Women. This soon became known as the Harvard Annex, and its successes gave Elizabeth reason to hope for full integration. But it was not until 1999 that Radcliffe College fully merged into Harvard. And then, in 2007, 100 years after Elizabeth Agassiz’s death, Harvard itself got a woman president. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Dec 2017, 11:01

Perhaps the only gentleman now living who hath a perfect knowledge of the tongue. Thomas Tonkin on William Gwavas, 1733.

In 17th-century England, antiquarianism became a popular sport, mainly (but not entirely) indoors, and for various reasons. Not the least of these was political, for those inclined to oppose the crown sought to identify the Stuarts with the ancient “Norman yoke” and themselves as upholders of even more ancient Anglo-Saxon liberties. Among them were the still well-known like John Aubrey (see Aubrey’s Lives) and others less remembered such as John Selden. But there were then other things to discover, to recover, to preserve, including things Cornish. In that western end of England an odd language was still spoken and strange customs still practiced, but both seemed to be disappearing and so William Gwavas, born in Suffolk on December 6, 1676, and by trade a London barrister took up the task of recovering Cornish artifacts and recording Cornish customs. He retired from London law in 1715, moved west to be near his family’s historic properties around Sithney, settled nearby in Penzance, married a Cornish heiress (Elizabeth Harris), and spent the next 25 years harassing Cornish fisherfolk and freeholders to restore his family’s Cornish rights (church livings and tithes, mainly) and enjoying much more success in collecting and collating Cornish memorabilia. In this he had collaborators, notably Thomas Tonkin (b. 1678, another Cornishman who became a London barrister and then retired to his Cornish properties). Gwavas was unique among these Cornish antiquaries as he’d had to learn Cornish, and he’d done it so well that he became acknowledged as the greatest expert on the language. Much of their work resides today in the Diputación Foral de Bizkaia in Bilbao in Spain, probably because it was thought that Cornish and Basque were related. But Basque, regarded now as an “isolate” language, is still spoken. Across the Bay of Biscay, a Cornish revival today struggles to gain traction, and William Gwavas’s dictionary is a major source. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Dec 2017, 14:24

Fortunate country, that is one day to receive hearts like Alexandra's into its bosom, to give them out again in the yellow wheat, in the rustling corn, in the shining eyes of youth! Last line of O Pioneers (1913)

Willa Cather was a conservative, no doubt about it. Her great prairie novels, set in Nebraska when agricultural depressions birthed the People’s Party and its very American socialisms, see those social catastrophes as another challenge for her best characters to overcome and to find fulfillment and pride in comfortable prosperity. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, critics who had loved her two decades earlier found her deaf and blind to the great social questions raised by the collapse of capitalism. More or less abandoned, she fell into the sort of disuse that can kill a writer. Deaths (of family and friends) administered the coup de grace and Cather died, neglected, in 1947. Not so today. Willa Cather, born Wilella Sibert Cather in Virginia on December 7, 1873, has been restored to the pantheon of great interpreters of America, and the reasons for that restoration would put Cather utterly at odds with what passes for conservatism in 2017. She moved to Nebraska with her family in 1883, finally settling in Red Cloud, and the great plains (“shaggy grass country”) made her. Awesomely vast, breathtakingly beautiful, the high country is undoubtedly one of her characters, but it’s also the protagonist that draws forth, from the best of its inhabitants, an all-consuming strength, a stubborn and ultimately heroic determination to fit the place, to become—with the land—“not a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.” And Willa Cather’s best materials, her heroes, were women, immigrant women, strong Swedes and jolly Bohunks who took the measure of the land and its men and made them sing wheat and pork, corn and beef, ‘canned’ garden vegetables, and a flower or two. I came to Cather only last summer, and already I’ve adopted one of her novels, O Pioneers!—and one of her more astonishing women, Alexandra Bergson—for my Introduction to American Studies seminar. The American hero as a very Swedish she. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 08 Dec 2017, 14:02

There is no-one to call me Victoria now. Queen Victoria, mourning Albert's death, 1861.

I’m not much of a moviegoer, but when our ‘cinema group’ last attended the multiplex most of us chose Victoria and Abdul, (certainly for me) because Judi Dench was Victoria. It was a good film, full of verité, and in it Victoria and Bertie (her appalling son, played to the hilt by Eddie Izzard) seemed true to history whatever one might say about the central relationship, that between Victoria and her astonished Indian man servant, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal). It was also good on the bizarre nature of court politics. In the end, Victoria’s end, that is, Eddie-Bertie sends Ali-Abdul back to India and directs the incineration of everything at Osborne that might suggest he’d ever been there. And I thought, perhaps they should now do John Brown. But I’m not much of a moviegoer, as I say, and I didn’t remember that they had, Dench as Victoria again and another ex-comic (Billy Connolly) as her favorite servant John Brown, in Mrs. Brown (1997). Mr. John Brown was born at Crathie, Aberdeenshire, on December 8, 1826, and “only a stable boy” and gillie at Balmoral when Victoria took it over in 1848. In her odd quest to become an ersatz Scotswoman, Victoria found her faithful Mr. Brown to be a good deal more than a gillie, and after Albert’s death (1861) Brown and the queen’s pony were brought south to Osborne to pull her out of her mourning depression. Soon he’d made himself indispensable, and his constant presence in the queen’s daily life stirred resentment at court and rumors abroad. Was the queen really “Mrs. Brown?” Mr. Brown’s habit of calling her “wumman” stoked fires of all sorts, and after his death (in 1883) and Victoria’s (in 1901), “dear Bertie” directed everything about the man to be added to the flames, just like in the movies. But if you were to open Victoria’s tomb, you would find in her coffin a lock of Mr. Brown’s hair, his picture, and memorabilia of his family. Some day, I will see that film, too. After all, it has Dench in it. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 Dec 2017, 15:01

Like Popeye, "I yam what I yam." Love me or hate me, just don't be indifferent. Kirk Douglas.

Although he’s been the subject of as many death hoaxes as Mark Twain, Kirk Douglas is still celebrating birthdays, and today he (and his wife of 64 years, Anne Buydens) will celebrate his 101st. Douglas was born on December 9, 1916, as Issur Danielovitch, the son of Jewish immigrants from Belarus. He changed to “Douglas” not for Hollywood but when he went into the navy (for anti-submarine service in WWII), and although he’d long harbored the ambition he didn’t start acting until he was back in civvies (wounded, medically discharged). On stage in NYC, he had breaks, standing in for Richard Widmark and then meeting Lauren Bacall, who helped him get established in Hollywood. Soon after his first film (1946, with Stanwyck), Douglas was a box office winner. It was a rapid rise, and he always pushed. A Ragman’s Son (the title of his autobiography) can’t be timid. I like to think of the scene when Izzy Demsky (that was his first new name) walked into a dean’s office at St. Lawrence University, circa 1936, showed his high school records and awards, and said, in effect, “I want in but I can’t afford it.” Next thing you know, Izzy was janitor, lawn boy, and college fresher. He displayed gambler’s instincts as he climbed the Hollywood tree, taking roles he liked in preference to those that might pay better. He was a tough guy, his smile (as the NYTimes said last year in a 100th-birthday tribute) “one of the steeliest blades in cinema, unrusted by the years.” In one of his first big roles, he said (of his emotions), “I hid them somewhere and haven’t been able to find them.” Fact is, he’s always worn them on his sleeve, his personal ambitions and his political commitments up front and center. So one has to hope for a few more death hoaxes and thus a few more birthdays. Happy 101st Birthday to Issur-Izzy-Kirk. It has been quite a run, one that began behind his dad’s rag and bone wagon on the lower east side of Manhattan. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Dec 2017, 07:15

I always hear what I have written as a part of myself given sincerely, and it remains a part of me because it is a place where I have lived. Olivier Messaien, 1988.

Were there a Nobel Prize for Music, it would have gone to Olivier Messaien, jack of all trades and master of many, whose compositions evidence his commitment to western and Christian traditions but also his catholic openness to Asian instruments and harmonies. From early on, he was also entranced by electronic instruments and used them in many formats. If that were not enough for a mythical musical Nobel, many of Messaien’s compositions hymned his love for nature, landscapes included, but especially birdsong. And there was love for people, compositions written for and with his first wife, Claire Delbos (a violinist), and then after she was lost to a medical accident yet more music for and with his second wife, Yvonne Loriod (a pianist and, it would turn out, an avid collector of birdsong). Olivier Eugène Charles Prosper Messaien was born on December 10, 1908, in Avignon, into a literary family of apparently secular views. Olivier certainly imbibed their love for (and knowledge of) Shakespeare, but soon apostatized into a lifelong commitment to Roman Catholicism. By then, inspired by modern composers (notably Debussy), he was studying at the Paris Conservatoire (from age 11!!), where he showed his talent for composition and an instinctive ability at the organ. Even WWII did not stem his flow. A POW at Görlitz, Stalag VIII-A, finding himself with a clapped-out piano, a violinist, a cellist, and a clarinetist, he composed (and in January 1941, with his ersatz quartet, performed) his Quatuor pour le fin de temps (Quartet for the End of Time). After Messaien’s death his widow Yvonne Loriod, together with Polish and German local authorities, created at Görlitz a European Center of Education and Culture. “Meeting Point Music Messaien” opened in 2014 as a place for young musicians to meet, learn, practice, and play. It is on the site of Stalag VIII-A, where it may fittingly serve as proxy for Olivier Messaien’s ‘missing’ Nobel prize. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 12 Dec 2017, 03:59

A girl could get away with more fresh stunts that in a boy would seem boorish. Marge, on Little Lulu.

The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America was founded at Radcliffe College in 1943 and named after the Schlesingers (both noted historians) in 1965. It’s now (along with Radcliffe) fully integrated into Harvard, and thus has itself become a chapter in women’s history. It’s also a place where people research and write further chapters in the same subject, famous not least for its 2,500+ manuscript collections. Among them are the oddly named “Marge Papers,” donated to the library by “Marge’s” sons, both of them notable professors of English (Lawrence Buell at Harvard). It strikes me that “Marge” may very well live on in The Simpsons, but the original “Marge” was Marjorie Henderson Buell, herself a successful cartoonist. She was born in Philadelphia on December 11, 1904, and by the 1920s had developed a name for herself, a market for her humorous cartoons, and a syndicated strip (“The Boy Friend”) that, despite its title, was about a girl. Eventually Marge got her own boyfriend, Clarence Buell, but before they married they agreed that their careers (he was a Bell executive) would get equal play in their lives (equal play may be as important as equal pay), and during their courtship Marge invented the strip that I remember and that would make her famous, Little Lulu, the eponymous Lulu being a little girl with an odd hairdo, a good nature, but a talent for getting into scrapes (often good deeds gone awry). It was a good comic, and as a strip it ran on for many years, and Marge (who stopped drawing the strip in 1947) kept artistic control. Indeed she was a pioneer in her trade, not only retaining copyright, but also from the get-go developing and then retaining all the merchandising potential of her appealing trademark (inter alia “Lulu” was the first advertising mascot for Kleenex tissues). Marge sold up her rights and copyrights in 1971, when she and her Clarence retired, to give each other equal play. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 12 Dec 2017, 15:56

Patriotism is a word, and one that generally comes to mean either My Country, Right or Wrong, which is infamous, or My Country Is Always Right, which is imbecile. Patrick O'Brian.

Over the years, many of my learned friends have urged me to read at least one of Patrick O’Brian’s (finally) twenty-one “Master and Commander” historical novels. So far I have resisted; the advice has usually been that I “should” read them, occasionally that I “must.” It’s just the sort of advice that brings out my stubborn streak, but one day I will surrender, because the whole story—of both novels and author—seems so interesting. Patrick O’Brian was not Patrick O’Brian at all, but Richard Patrick Russ, born on December 12, 1914. His childhood was poverty-marked, but he emerged from it with a yen to write. His first novel, Caesar: The Life Story of a Panda Leopard, came out in 1929 when he was but 15. No one seems sure of what happened over the next 15 years, but he married twice, acquiring on the second one a (politically fairly odious) stepson (Nikolai Tolstoy), changed his own name to Patrick O’Brian, and may or may not have worked for British intelligence during WWII. (His second wife did, and O’Brian claimed he joined her. His stepson says he didn’t.) O’Brian also may have learned to sail a square-rigger (probably not), and he certainly became an eccentric recluse, but somewhere along a varied line of writing (and translations from the French) he acquired a fascination with, and much knowledge of, the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic era, and in 1969 published his first naval novel, Master and Commander. It became an entrancing saga of warfare and shipboard life and death, but along with that it was a biography of Captain Jack Aubrey and a ‘black Irish’ ship’s physician, Dr. Stephen Maturin. It sold well enough in Britain to be followed up quickly by a half dozen sequels, and then from about 1980 the continuing series became a hot property for W. W. Norton in the USA. Just who Patrick O’Brian was remains an issue, but there’s no doubt about the enduring popularity of those novels that I have yet to read. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 14 Dec 2017, 03:30

We are successful if we make use of our own skills, not if we exploit those of others. Werner von Siemens.

The entertaining, even rather attractive Siemens adverts that one sees on US television serve as a useful reminder that entrepreneurial capitalism is not an American monopoly. And the biography of the company’s founder reminds us that successful capitalists need not bow to the shibboleths of unregulated competition and low taxes. Ernst Werner Siemens was born into the very large family of a tenant farmer in Hanover, Germany, on December 13, 1816. He was recognized to be a clever lad, but—unable to afford a higher education—he decided to depend on state support and studied engineering at the Prussian military academy. After military service, he turned to inventing in a big way, at first in telegraphy, founding a company in 1847 and cleverly insuring that its agents abroad were his brothers. The company grew rapidly, diversified, and changed its name several times but always kept the “Siemens” trademark. Among many other things, it invented (or developed the market potential of) vacuum tubes, electric elevators, dynamos, and electric trolley cars. Siemens’ successes led to his ennoblement in Germany, so he’s known today as Werner von Siemens, but it’s worth noting that his brothers-agents in Britain and Russia also ascended to their local aristocracies, and the firm itself kept its focus on research and development and on attracting (and keeping) a skilled, efficient, and thoughtful workforce, from the shop floor, through the laboratories, and into the boardroom. In politics a liberal of social democracy tendencies, in his firm he experimented (successfully) with old-age pensions, pre-school care for workers’ children, and high pay. Modestly, or realistically, Siemens explained these as his way of combining “human concern” with “healthy egoism.” The Siemens family, still a “group,” today owns 6% of the stock and a seat on the board of Siemens AG. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 14 Dec 2017, 15:21

Under the government of the excellent Mr. Jefferson, one needs no other protection than the usefulness of one's work. Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours, 1803.

In early modern Europe, the Dutch and (much more hesitantly) the English made a good case for religious toleration. By no means “tolerant,” their abilities to get along with dissenting minorities helped the Dutch (who called it “overlooking”) to bring about the economic miracle of being Europe’s richest state on its poorest land, while England’s dissenters took advantage of their limited toleration to engineer the industrial revolution (and, into the bargain, a modern banking system). France experimented with a bare toleration (the Edict of Nantes, 1598) but abandoned it in 1685 and told its Protestants (“Huguenots”) that they had complete freedom to conform or leave. Many left (to further enrich Holland, Britain, and the British colonies) and many conformed. A minority remained rooted in both France and Protestantism, including the du Ponts. On December 14, 1739, the family birthed Pierre Samuel du Pont, son of an eminent watchmaker and descended from minor nobility. His father wanted him in the family trade, but young du Pont acquired wider ambitions, court connections, and a reputation as an intellectual, one of the philosophes of the French Enlightenment. A writer on economics (“les sciences morales et politiques”), he also rose the bureaucracy and in 1784 was ennobled by Louis XVI as Samuel du Pont de Nemours. It was bad timing to be seen as a court favorite, and at the Revolution (in 1793) du Pont barely escaped the guillotine. Already a friend of the USA (and of Thomas Jefferson) du Pont took his family to Delaware where they hoped to establish a utopian community. They made some headway, but Samuel got embroiled in politics (he helped President Jefferson in the Louisiana negotiations). Meanwhile, his son Éleuthère Irénée started up a gunpowder plant (near Brandywine Creek). So we could say that in the broad run of history E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. was yet another gift of intolerance. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Tizer » 15 Dec 2017, 11:35

In my days of technical publishing I got used to the DuPont company sending out letters demanding that editors refer to their company as DuPont, not Du Pont or du Pont. Strange when you think that the company's official name is `E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company' and the family was called Du Pont.

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 Dec 2017, 14:08

That is the mystery about writing: it comes out of afflictions, out of the gouged times, when the heart is cut open. Edna O'Brien, Country Girl: A Memoir, 2013.

Edna O’Brien is 87 today, and one happiness she can celebrate is that she is a liberated woman whose writings have had something to do with the liberation of others, men as well as women. One measure of that access of freedom is that her first novels were banned in Ireland, but more recently she has won just about every literary prize the Republic offers (and more, from elsewhere), and has been feted by an Irish president (a woman!!) as “one of the great creative writers of her generation.” The New York Times has called her “the major cardiologist of broken hearts”: accurately if we remember that diagnosis is essential to healing, or that the truth can be a kindness. Edna O’Brien was born on December 15, 1930, in the West of Ireland, the youngest child in a large family presided over by a drunken father and kept together by an overworked mother, “tender and chastising” (who never did like her daughter’s books and, in the end, disinherited her). In a recent memoir, punningly entitled Country Girl (O’Brien’s first novel, in 1960, was The Country Girls), she chastises her native land with the tenderness of a woman who wishes it might have been a better place. But even in The Country Girls, O’Brien recalled, Eire was “the country I had left and wanted to leave, but now grieved for, with an inexplicable sorrow.” Such a memory could be seen as no more than a metaphor for growing up and older and leaving one’s youth behind, but for O’Brien it was much more than that, and her anger at the “fervid . . . enclosed . . . suffocating” world of her young years is made clear in her use of a Samuel Becket quotation for the epigraph of her first novel: “Let us say before I go any further, that I forgive nobody. I wish them all an atrocious life in the fires of icy hell and in the execrable generations to come.” The old lady has mellowed a bit since, though not too much, and I think she will know how to have a very pleasant day of it on her 87th birthday. ©
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