BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 16 Dec 2017, 13:44

My dear – the people we should have been seen dead with. Rebecca West to Noël Coward, on learning that both had been on the Nazi execution list.

Researching these notes turns up a host of odd coincidences, not least December 16, the birthing day of both Beethoven (1770) and Noël Coward (1899). Given the season, we’ll go with Noël. Born in London to an improvident piano salesman and a naval captain’s daughter, Coward hit the stage at age 12 and never looked back. His career was defined by his sharp wit, his fey personality, and (in a closeted age) his barely concealed homosexuality, but mainly by his stage comedies, e.g. Private Lives (1930) and Blithe Spirit (1941). He also had a hand in the David Lean film Brief Encounter (1945). By 1929, as writer and performer, Coward was making £50,000 a year, which today would make him a multimillionaire, and he enjoyed artistic success in England and the US. During World War II he served as a British agent in Paris and then elsewhere, all the while living flamboyantly and dispensing witticisms. This made him unpopular with a British public that did not know his secret role; Churchill cited his bad reputation to dissuade George VI from giving Coward a knighthood (Coward was great friends with the Queen Mother, who would speak at his 1973 memorial service in Westminster Abbey). The Germans were unamused, for Coward was high on their list of people to be executed when they won the war. Coward paid his patriotic dues also with one of the best war films ever, In Which We Serve (1943), which he co-directed and in which he co-starred. His creativity continued after the war, and he was finally knighted in 1969 by King George’s daughter. He died four years later. We could use him today, for there are some characteristic Cowardisms that seem fitting for the age of Trump. It is discouraging how many people are shocked with honesty and how few by deceit. The higher the building the lower the morals. Conceit is an outward manifestation of inferiority. Never trust a man with short legs. His brain’s too close to his bottom. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 Dec 2017, 14:47

One is only happy because of satisfied tastes and passions. I say tastes because one is not always lucky enough to have passions. Emilie du Chatelet, Discours sur le bonheur, 1748.

Gabrielle Émilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil was born in Paris on December 17, 1706. As her names imply, she was of aristocratic birth, her father an official at the court of Louis XIV. She was a precocious child and an only daughter (there were five brothers) who had the good fortune to land with parents (certainly her father, probably her mother) who perceived her brilliance and then encouraged her to develop it through private tuition with (among others) the president of the Academy of Sciences. Particularly adept at mathematics, Émilie became a good gambler, a sport permitted to aristocratic women, but she also learned much about astronomy and acquired fluency in the classics and three modern languages. She also learned to be a lady and, aged 18, married a military man, the Marquis de Châtelet, bore him three children, and might have “retired” to his château. But he was a man often absent at the wars, and one who appreciated and indulged his wife’s free and adventurous spirit. So instead, Émilie, Marquise du Châtelet became Voltaire’s mistress, indeed the love of his life, and the two philosophes added many books to the château’s already immense library and (given Émilie’s scientific bent) added a laboratory or two. It was for both a partnership of equals, one not marred by Voltaire’s comment that “her only fault was being a woman.” The proper context of that remark is that Émilie died in childbirth in 1749. Before that, she became a scientist in her own right, a noted pioneer in kinetic energy and optics, and the translator (into French) of Isaac Newton’s Principia. Pregnant and sure (at her age) that a pregnancy would kill her, she rushed to finish the Principia before her fatal labor, and was successful. Please note, though, that in 1748 she also wrote her Discours sur le bonheur; for the pursuit of happiness was another of her vocations. There is every evidence that she found happiness with Voltaire and with science. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 Dec 2017, 12:59

It seems an eternity since that train went out of the station, taking him away, into the darkness. I was happy then. Laura, in Brief Encounter, 1945.

Given the movies’ current obsession with steamy (or seamy) love affairs, it’s useful to remember there were (and still are, and will forever be) quite a few amorous liaisons that are never physically consummated and yet in which love is intensely felt and even fully requited, by both partners. If you’re skeptical, you could always watch David Lean’s brilliant Brief Encounter (1945), in which two respectable, married (not to each other), eminently sane people briefly encounter, fall passionately in love, and then part forever. He (a doctor) goes off to South Africa and she (married, two kids, nice husband named Fred) returns home to fantasize about confessing her affair to Fred. She didn’t need to. Fred seems to understand, and thanks her for “coming back.” They embrace. Tears are shed (on screen and in the audience). And the credits roll to disclose that she (“Laura”) was played beautifully by Celia Johnson. Indeed Johnson was perfectly cast. Her beauty seemed more than skin deep, and her wide, innocent eyes expressed a yearning that, in the movie, became a fervent desire for someone livelier than Fred and something more unsettling than her suburban niche. Indeed the real Celia grew up in suburban comfort, in Richmond (her birthplace on December 18, 1908), where she was educated in private schools. It was then on to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), and then a meteoric rise on the London stage, where she was a star by 1931. She did take some time off to be married (she thus became Ian Fleming’s sister-in-law), have three children, establish her own Oxfordshire refuge, and perhaps never feel quite as lost as Laura in Brief Encounter. As for me, I could easily visualize Laura’s meetings with her truest love, for most of those scenes (brief encounters indeed) were filmed at Carnforth station, from which—in the 1970s—I commuted to work.©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by PanBiker » 18 Dec 2017, 13:14

Brief Encounter is shown on permanent loop in the small museum attached to the station cafe. Our 40's re-enactment group (as do many more) visited a few years ago on a jaunt around the lakes in our 1935 bus, we went on the Windermere steamer as well. :smile:
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 Dec 2017, 06:43

I endeavored to make it both entertaining and useful, and it accordingly came to be in such demand that I reaped considerable profit from it. B. Franklin, Autobiography, on Poor Richard's Almanac.

In 1729, Jonathan Swift published A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, in which (among other things) he suggests that (as “flesh, and meat”) a poorhouse child might make a toothsome meal. It was satire, but many modern readers have taken it seriously, usually in outrage but occasionally, as with Paul Ryan, as a policy idea. Just so, Mark Twain’s “The Late Benjamin Franklin” (1870) has spawned a parade of po-faced critics when all Twain meant to do was to point out that Franklin’s naive prejudices and Pecksniffian morals had inflicted grievous bodily harm and diabolical mental cruelties on small boys who, otherwise, might have played at hoops or tricked their friends into whitewashing picket fences. The object of Twain’s ire was Poor Richard’s Almanac, first published on December 19, 1732. Its proper title was Poor Richard: An Almanack For the Year of Christ 1732, and it would go through 27 annual editions and help to make its perpetrator the richest man in Philadelphia. Along with the claptrap you’d find in the usual almanac (like ‘it’s going to rain on Tuesday so be sure you plant on Monday’ or ‘today would be a good day to shoot your neighbor for not trimming his hedge,’ it was full of moral advice and injunctions, the most famous of which is probably “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” As Twain pointed out, this is a complete nonsense and runs against the nature of a child who’s already healthy enough to defy both the Widow Douglas and Aunt Polly and spend the day fishing (rather than, say, trimming the hedge). Twain also accused Franklin of plagiarizing conventional wisdom that was as old (and as flawed) as the Tower of Babel. Just think how much Twain would have enjoyed knowing that a many of the first edition’s moral aphorisms were actually plagiarized from George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, aka “the Trimmer.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 20 Dec 2017, 14:31

To comport oneself with perfect propriety in Polygonal society, one ought to be a Polygon oneself. Edwin Abbott Abbott, Flatland, 1884.

Besides being the world’s workshop and the “centre” of the universe, Victorian Britain produced more eccentrics per square mile than any other modern western society. Edith Sitwell wrote a book about it (The English Eccentrics, 1933) that, eccentrically, is still in print, in which she concluded that Anglo-eccentricity owed to “that peculiar and satisfactory knowledge of infallibility that is the hallmark and the birthright of the British nation.” In that spirit, perhaps, the polymathic Edwin Abbott married his cousin Jane Abbott, and in the midst of writing textbooks on English, Latin and Algebra (and a concordance of the works of Pope), attaining the eminence of school headmaster, and pursuing an active life as a Christian socialist, fathered eight children. So it was that the eccentrically named Edwin Abbott Abbott came into the world on December 20, 1838 (almost a charter Victorian), and became a polymathic eccentric just like his father, brilliant student in mathematics, philosophy, and classics, and a fellow of St. John’s, Cambridge, who unaccountably decided (at age 26, hardly yet old enough to be so eccentric) to take holy orders and become a school headmaster (at the City of London School). There he presided firmly but kindly, rescuing a young H. H. Asquith from his shyness (Asquith would become Prime Minister), and causing some theological upset with his heterodox biblical scholarship. Edwin Abbott Abbott also, and this is the point or the line of this whole eccentricity thing, wrote and published (in 1884) the short novel Flatland, in which almost everyone is a two dimensional sort, arranged in a hierarchy-patriarchy with women at the bottom (as mere line segments) and priests at the top (circles). It’s a world then visited (and of course upended) by three dimensional folk (from “Spaceland”) and further troubled by the hint of yet a fourth dimension, probably a mathematical place. And, eccentrically, Flatland still in print, too. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 21 Dec 2017, 14:20

A dogfight on 16th Street is a better story than a war in Timbuktu. Frederick Bonfils.

On December 21, 1860, just a day after South Carolina seceded, another disruptive influence was born in Troy, Missouri. He was Frederick Gilmer Bonfils, who would pursue many trades, fail in several, but always (like Emerson’s hero in “Self-Reliance”) land on his feet. After deserting West Point in 1881, defrauding a Missouri lottery, and successfully engaging in land piracy in Texas, Bonfils met a part-time bartender (Harry Tammen, whose day job was editing newspapers), and together they bought a failing newspaper, probably for a song, renamed it The Denver Post, and danced it into history as the most disreputable paper west of the Mississippi. Their stories got them sued (including by Buffalo Bill Cody, for detailing his love life), shot (both of them: not fatally but painfully) by an irate lawyer, and even horse-whipped. The gun-toting lawyer, by the way, represented a client that the Post had charged with cannibalism. Not satisfied with that, Bonfils and Tammen (probably) accepted bribes to print stories favorable to men later brought down by the Teapot Dome scandal. But their most spectacular stunt involved a devastating dynamite blast they set off to publicize their new newspaper in Kansas City. They had to sell up and get out of Kansas City, but they transformed the Denver scene. Tammen died in 1924, unmourned by many but sorely missed by more. Fred Bonfils himself carried on as before, dying unquietly in 1933, while he contested a libel suit (in which he was actually the plaintiff!!) against the rival Rocky Mountain News, a paper he had beaten into second place in Denver’s brutal circulation wars. Bonfils left behind him a locally famous daughter, the imperious Helen (who loved her city and her chauffeur, and showered them both with gifts), and an editor, Gene Fowler, who with indecent haste recorded it all in his vastly entertaining Timber Line: The Story of Bonfils and Tammen (1933). ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 22 Dec 2017, 14:30

I'm not quitting because I'm getting old, I'm quitting because I think people want me to. Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy, aka Connie Mack, 1951.

My first (of surprisingly few) attendances at major league baseball games were at Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia in the early 1960s. It was originally named Shibe Park, but no one called it that, for Connie Mack (who had died only in 1956) was in Philadelphia a sacred myth. A miracle of modern construction when it opened in 1909, it was the park where (everyone joked) no one seat had an unobstructed view of the field. Like many baseball legends, that was not quite true, but one result of all the steel girders was that every seating section was a community unto itself, and the conversations within each community were not always about baseball. Connie Mack might have liked that, for he was as working class as they come. Born Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy on December 22, 1862 in the Irish immigrant enclave of Brookfield, MA, and soon nicknamed Connie Mack, this “Mr. Baseball” began his long association with the game on Brookfield’s back streets and vacant lots, where his expertise won him a place on a semi-pro team in 1879. In the majors for 10 years (1886-1895, mainly as a catcher), Mack also gained fame as a supremely successful rule breaker and rule bender, openly boasting of his ability to fool the ump. He retired from the game in 1951, a stunning 72-year career, 50 of them as manager (and owning partner) of the Philadelphia Athletics. Was Connie Mack too old to manage a ball club at the age of 88, in 1950? Well, the answer to that is “yes,” but it’s worth pointing out that he’d managed the A’s to three winning seasons in 1947-49, and he went into retirement more sullenly than sunnily, but it seems highly unlikely that any baseball manager ever, in any known universe, will beat his record of managerial wins. Nor, for that matter, is his record of managerial losses in any danger. Connie Mack’s greatest success was that he had become, himself, an institution—and a ballpark. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 23 Dec 2017, 13:53

Sir, I know my way to the Tower. Matthew Wren to King Charles II, circa 1663, expressing his disappointment at the Restoration settlement in the Church of England.

The Anglican communion, getting on for its 600th birthday, is known today (in most of its episcopates) for being a broad church, a reputation well-deserved but also the inadvertent result of a long struggle. Early on, there was a line drawn between “high church” and “low church” ideas and adherents. Ever since, theological battles (not always seemly) have moved the line hither and yon, but still it exists. Anglican breadth (and ‘toleration’) thus ironically depends on drawn battles and paper peaces. These ‘agreements to disagree’ would have troubled one of the greatest of the high churchmen, Matthew Wren, born in London on December 23, 1585. A brilliant scholar, he took holy orders in 1611 and immediately joined in the ongoing warfare between Puritans and the defenders of a priestly and kingly church. Wren’s rapid rise in the hierarchy owed mainly to his intelligence and devotion to duty, but his detractors thought otherwise. As dean of Windsor, then (in rapid succession) Bishop at Hereford, Norwich, and Ely, Wren was an enthusiast for harrying Puritans. Quite a few of them fled to America, but enough stayed behind to foment civil war, behead Charles I, and (into the bargain) throw Wren into the Tower and keep him there for 18 years, during which he steadfastly refused to bend his knee to the usurpation. Thus Wren proved himself innocent of being a mere toady, and thus also retained his head (his high church ally Archbishop Laud was not so lucky) and his substantial properties. With the Restoration, Wren gained his freedom and regained his bishopric and his estates, but was disappointed at what he saw as the untoward breadth of the Restoration church settlement. Today Matthew Wren’s body lies in the high church chapel he built at Peterhouse, Cambridge (designed by his nephew Christopher), where (occasionally) it spins in anger at yet another temporizing truce within the church he tried so bravely to narrow. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 24 Dec 2017, 12:03

Commendatore of the Ottoman Order. Giuseppe Verdi's reward (along with 150,000 francs) for composing "Aida".

An important figure in modern Egypt’s long journey to political independence was Ismail Pasha, who in 1863 became Wali (governor) and then in 1867 Khedive (viceroy) at the sufferance of Egypt’s then imperial masters, the Ottomans. Pasha desired real independence, and embarked on a campaign to modernize his province (then including the Sudan). He had been educated in Paris and then had undertaken diplomatic missions to Paris and Rome, and to him modernization meant making Egypt part of Europe. Accordingly, he encouraged industrialization and urbanization, and attacked slavery. He even experimented with representative institutions. Among his lesser (but more expensive) accomplishments in this line was the construction, in Cairo, of a grand Opera House. Pasha then wanted an opera appropriate to the setting, and after much wheedling and the offer of a whopping fee, Giuseppe Verdi accepted. The grand opening was delayed because the Franco-Prussian War kept the costumes, and much of the stagecraft, in Paris, but in due course the Cairo Opera House had its official grand opening on December 24, 1871 with Verdi’s Aida, appropriately set in the Old Kingdom, ancient Egypt, and appropriately plotted too, turning on the Egyptian king’s love for an Ethiopian slave (the captured Princess Aida) and for Ethiopian territory. It all ends badly (it is, after all, grand opera) for Aida and her truer love, Radamès, captain of the king’s guard who had been commissioned to reduce Ethiopia to Egyptian rule. But in Verdi’s correspondence there’s a hint that the basic plot was supplied by Ismail Pasha, who undoubtedly enjoyed the evening’s performance. Sadly for Ismail Pasha, he vastly overspent on his various projects, and on himself, and eventually Egypt’s mountain of debt moved it from Ottoman to Anglo-French rule, awaiting another Radamès (who would be named Nasser) to achieve sovereignty. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 25 Dec 2017, 11:49

Academic staff rather enjoy coming to conclusions, but they don't like coming to decisions at all. Noel Annan.

Those born on Christmas day get shorted when it comes to birthday gifts. Certainly my friend Robert Prugh, 72 today, thought so. On the other hand, the second son of James and Fannie Annan, born on December 25, 1916, got a distinctive first name out of it, and entered the lists as Noel Annan. He exited in 2000, having achieved another distinction: the very definition of a modern public intellectual. He was a large figure physically and in every other way: eloquent in speech, precise yet colorful in prose, discerning in his biographies (he wrote a great many if you count the eulogies he delivered at eminent friends’ funerals). Annan positioned (“postured,” his detractors would say) himself at the middle of British politics, and he was of an intellect to see ‘his’ middle as a summit, not as a compromise. As a Cambridge undergraduate, he became well-educated and well-connected. He was a member of the Apostles, not one of their traitors but rather a hero with a brilliant war (in intelligence rather than in battle), and a more brilliant peace. An accomplished historian, he was elected provost of King’s College at 39, would later preside at University College, Oxford, and then moved to take a new position created to head up, or rein in, the sprawling empire of the University of London. Although he made some reforms. he was not a great success as an academic administrator, but he was certainly noticed and was made a life peer in 1965. It was as Lord Annan that he headed up the commission that in 1977 issued the Annan Report (as it’s now known) on radio and television broadcasting. This secured his public reputation, and for the rest of his life he engaged in a whirlwind of public service (National Gallery, British Museum, London Library, Royal Opera House, et cetera ad infinitum). Annan also returned to scholarship, including a remarkable ‘class’ biography of The Dons: Mentors, Eccentrics, and Geniuses (1999), but that’s another story. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 26 Dec 2017, 13:40

Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! Tom's monologue in The Glass Menagerie.

If the holiday season in England involved entertainment, it was likely to be of a jolly sort, a stage pantomime or “panto”. The titles were usually well known, for instance Cinderella or Peter Pan or Goldilocks. Some violence was done to the classic plots, for the sake of comedy or absurdity, hazarding the principal boy (played by a female), the dame (played by a male), and the principal girl (played straight) with a more or less ‘orrible fate, but before the curtain fell all was resolved and (at least by implication) all lived happily ever after. Often we attended on Boxing Day (December 26) when there were two performances. How different it might have been had you attended a Chicago theatre on December 26, 1944, for then you might have seen the première of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, a play of mostly quiet desperation, faded glories (Amanda), blighted hopes (Tom), and sad if imaginative resignation (Laura and her glass animals), who all three fail to be rescued by Jim, conjured up by Tom to play court to Laura. The play ends not with a bang but with a whimper. Their likely fates (as reflected or hinted by Tom’s memory monologues) are not so much ‘orrible as undecided, though there is a resolution of sorts for Laura. The play went to New York, made Williams’s reputation, and would turn out to be intimately biographical in more ways than one. Not only were “Tom” and “Laura” composite portraits of real life Tennessee and his schizoid sister, Rose, but Tom Williams (Tennessee’s ‘real’ name) would use the royalties from The Glass Menagerie to finance Rose’s care. Indeed, Williams may have written the play partly to rage against the decision (taken in 1943 by his mother and Rose’s doctors) to ‘treat’ Rose with a partial lobotomy. It did not work, and Rose, in care, would outlive her tragic brother by 13 years. There was never a happy ending, and although The Glass Menagerie has been parodied, you couldn’t make a “panto” out of it. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 27 Dec 2017, 14:07

Mankind can never have a comprehensive view of any subject, until the mind of woman has been brought to bear on it, equally with that of man. George Drysdale, "Woman, the Physician," in Elements of Social Science.

While these notes have often argued against equating Victorianism with conservatism or prudishness, they have never mentioned the Drysdale brothers, the elder of whom—George Drysdale—was born in Edinburgh on December 27, 1824. Solidly but not stolidly middle class, George lived a more spectacular life than his brother Charles (who came along in 1828), including severer than usual hangups about masturbation in particular and sex in general, and then a staged (or faked) drowning in the Danube. He returned to what might have been (but for his brother) a single-handed crusade to liberate men and women from the tyrannies of sex and encourage them to enter into its freedoms. He’s most famed for his advocacy of contraception, but we should know him better for the ways in which that advocacy fit with a whole range of reforms, including gender equality in sex, education, marriage, parenting, the workplace and in politics. He was a feminist before there was a word for it, and argued for female doctors (especially in gynecology) and teachers, on the grounds that they knew better than males what it was like to grow up a woman and, in any case, were at least as intelligent. He was a Malthusian, but without the pessimism (and social savagery, and sexual abstinence) that had been associated with Malthus. Instead, Drysdale thought that to limit population would render women and men (equals to each other, of course) far better able to work things out, including how best to share the world’s limited resources. George Drysdale’s main publication was Physical, Sexual, and Natural Religion (1855), which became more widely known as Elements of Social Science. It may be another measure of Victorian radicalism (or Victorian repression?) that it sold over 90,000 copies and was translated into (at least) eleven languages. George died in 1904. His brother Charles, a more accomplished physician, carried his work forward to 1907. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 28 Dec 2017, 14:08

[The tub] was denounced as an epicurean and obnoxious toy from England, designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the Republic. Mencken's A Neglected Anniversary, 1917.

Among many historic hoaxes, these notes have named three, Jonathan Swift’s 1729 proposal to ease the food shortage by eating Irish children, Orson Welles’ Martian invasion of 1938, and Mark Twain’s 1870 sendup of “The Late Benjamin Franklin.” Each of them has fooled some people some of the time. Exactly 100 years ago today, the Bad Boy of Baltimore, H. L. Mencken, launched another which fooled more people for longer, for on December 28, 1917, Mencken published (in the New York Evening Mail) his “A Neglected Anniversary” a satire that (to Mencken’s lasting delight) was taken seriously in the United States of the Booboisie. The country was then at war and in a lather to expunge all things German from its own Kultur, removing the language and its literature from university syllabi, changing street names (in St. Louis, unkindly, Berlin Avenue became Pershing), and in Grundy Center, IA, boycotting the town’s Bavarian medic, Dr. M. H. Thielen. It was this getting rid of the “Dirty Hun” that inspired Mencken (of German parentage) to call the country to celebrate the forgotten anniversary of the invention of the first bathtub, lead lined of course, in Cincinnati, and its translation to the White House by Millard Fillmore (an obscure and thus Mencken’s favorite president). Mencken called on the country to remember that—before the tub—it had been a dirty place itself, and proud of it, and had had to learn the hard way that cleanliness was next to Godliness (and thus a naturalized American quality). Eventually, Mencken wrote, the tub triumphed, and the newly scrubbed country breathed a sigh of relief. Surely this was cause for celebration? H. L. Mencken’s bathtub anniversary (December 20, 1842) was swallowed by a credulous press and an even more credulous country. When—8 years later—Mencken proudly confessed to pulling the wet wool over blinded eyes, most people thought his confession was the hoax. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 29 Dec 2017, 11:30

Christian Thomsen, founding director of Denmark's National Museum, 1788-1865.

It’s been ages since I read Loren Eiseley’s Darwin’s Century (1958), a pioneering work that demonstrated how Darwin’s mind was prepared to accept (as well as to state) his evolutionary theories. Generations of scientists and amateurs had puzzled away at rocks and fossils, similarities and dissonances in living things, even at the lay of the land. Quite a few lived long enough to read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and not all of those accepted Darwin’s ideas, but in trying to explain things from the evidence that the things presented (a fairly revolutionary concept), they provided conceptual frames from which he could construct his grand theory. Eiseley mentioned many, delving deeply into a few, but I think failed to mention Christian Jürgensen Thomsen, another amateur, whose pioneering work on human antiquities provided a time span broad enough to accommodate (not to prove) notions of human evolution. Christian Thomsen was born to a wealthy Copenhagen family on December 29, 1788, was educated in the classics, and developed an expertise in numismatics. But even young gentlemen have to do something, so in 1816 Thomsen accepted an unsalaried job as curator of the Danish royal collections of human antiquities. This was a jumble of stuff, collected from everywhere at various times, and in 1816 housed in a church attic, So the coin collector had no choice but to operate from the objects themselves, and although the objects bore no dates (nor any emperors’ heads) they did bear obvious marks of manufacture and of use and—arguing from the evidence thus presented—Thomsen embraced and convincingly articulated the idea that man the manufacturer, man the maker, had progressed through three ages, Stone, Bronze, and Iron. Thomsen’s book was translated into English in 1848, and he lived long enough to have read Darwin’s Origin (1859), but whether those circumstances are meaningful I do not know, and I don’t think Loren Eiseley mentioned the matter. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 30 Dec 2017, 14:59

I'll be true to the song I sing// And live and die a Pirate King. The Pirate King, in Act 1 of The Pirates of Penzance.

We’ve heard much of how those awful Chinese have no respect for copyright, and of course it is too, too bad. But in the 19th century, as civilized Britain struggled to establish international copyright protections, the USA remained a nest of pirates. Several British authors made pilgrimage to the new republic mainly to establish American contracts, and it’s given us some of our most valuable source material on what American life was like, back then. For example, both Charles Dickens and Fanny Trollope came over to secure American rights and left us with excellent (if slightly sour) recollections of their travels (there was travel the other way, too, and for the same reason). But in 1879 a different route was taken by Gilbert & Sullivan. On December 30, 1879 they staged a ‘review only’ performance of The Pirates of Penzance in Britain (in Paignton, Devonshire, as close as they could get to Penzance). This established their British rights. And then on the very next day, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City, in order to avoid American piracy, The Pirates of Penzance had its official première. Transatlantic travel being what it was, back then, W. S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan chose to be at the New York performance, giving Paignton a miss. They sailed, with Richard D’Oyley Carte and his eponymous company, including the modern Major-General, the Pirate King, Ruth the Piratical Maid, and the romantic interests, too: Frederic the Pirate Apprentice and Mabel, the modern Major-General’s daughter. Not only did The Pirates of Penzance foil the pirates of America, as intended, but the performance went down in New York like Devon clotted cream, conjuring (one critic gushed) “into existence a hitherto unknown comic world of sheer delight.” “I think,” Sullivan wrote to his mother from New York, “that in time it will be very popular.” And so say all of us. If you haven’t seen it yet, poor wand’ring ones, do so at your earliest opportunity. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Jan 2018, 06:26

How many things have been accepted on the word of Galen? Andreas Vesalius, 1543.

The first sentence in Steven Shapin’s The Scientific Revolution (1996) arrests one’s attention. “There was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it.” Shapin argues that “the scientific revolution” as conceived by scholars was overly Anglo-centric (Bacon, Newton, Harvey, etc.), overly Protestant, and too much concerned with the 17th century. Exhibit A in those arguments might well be Andreas Vesalius, born in Brussels on December 31, 1514, into a family of physicians and apothecaries. Trained up in the same way, Vesalius did what everyone else did, read the ancients, notably Galen, in order to learn the medical mysteries. He learned well and quickly, and at 23 was appointed to the chair of medicine at Padua. Almost as quickly, he began to doubt the ancients, whose ideas seemed at variance with what Vesalius saw with his own eyes, particularly in the matter of human anatomy. Galen, indeed, had dissected monkeys and oxen and dogs, not humans, and the errors arising had been accepted as gospel for centuries. In his efforts to find out what really made us tick and how our bodies were actually constructed, Vesalius got tied up with artists (of the school of Titian), invited draftsmen and painters (not just medical students) to his dissections, and the results were of such astonishing clarity and beauty (if you like that sort of thing) that his works became instant classics. In fact, I first heard of Vesalius in a lecture on art history rather than science history, in which a medical librarian detailed the beauties (as well as the science) of Vesalius’s 1543 De humani corporis fabrica. It is a classic of the scientific revolution (if there was such a thing), and it was researched and written in Italy by a Catholic scholar of Flemish extraction, and it appeared almost a century before Lord Bacon (in The Great Instauration) urged scholars to ignore authority and see things for themselves, experimentally. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 01 Jan 2018, 15:26

When I came to know Mrs. Marcet personally; how often I cast my thoughts backward, delighting to connect the past and the present; how often, when sending a paper to her as a thank you offering, I thought of my first instructress. Michael Faraday.

Miss Elizabeth Bennett showed a remarkable capacity to join ‘in conversation,’ venting her judgments (or prejudices) in company, even in the company of proud Fitzwilliam Darcy. In the end they make a love match, and (Jane Austen tells us) an equal one. We are left to imagine what the Darcys’ life was like afterwards, but why stick with fiction when there’s a real-life story? This one involved an Austen contemporary, Jane Haldimand Marcet, born on January 1, 1769. Her banker father treated her equally with his sons, and when her mother died, Jane Haldimand became his hostess and made of it a job, for Pa (a radical Swiss émigré) entertained a varied crowd of scientists, politicians, and literary sorts. In time, Jane met yet another radical Swiss émigré, the physician Alexander Marcet. Perhaps, like Miss Bennett, Jane had waited for a love match, for she was then 30. In any case she found one, and they made theirs a marriage of equals. The pair successfully raised four children, and made their London house a gathering place for the leading spirits of the day. Jane joined in, and soon began to write up what she learned. Her most famous works were her Conversations, one on Natural Philosophy, another on Political Economy, on Vegetable Physiology, and a fourth on Chemistry. They were published in fairly quick succession in the 1800s, 10s and 20s but constantly updated as Jane Marcet kept pace with the rapid developments in these fields almost throughout her long life. Her Conversations in Chemistry went through 13 editions. They were works of substance, these Conversations, inspiring (among others) Michael Faraday and Harriet Martineau to begin their studies, and they were widely used as textbooks in the American ‘female academies’ that, in the 19th century, began to operate on the assumption that women were as fully capable of intellectual development as Any One Else. How many women were brought to think so by Elizabeth Bennett? How many by Jane Marcet? Happy New Year!!! ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 02 Jan 2018, 12:06

A collection of good books, with a soul to it in the shape of a librarian, becomes a vitalized power by which the world goes on to improvement. Justin Winsor.

While the 19th-century U.S. produced few great histories, it made advances in preserving the historical record. Legions of amateurs and then battalions of professionals founded historical societies, published “Collections” (so called) of private letters and public papers, and wrote local histories and family genealogies. A mix of base and noble motives energized them and marks their works, and today we call them all “antiquarians,” a title that is patronizing when not pejorative, but colonial historians in particular are in their debt. One of the greatest of them was Justin Winsor, born in Boston on January 2, 1831. Heir to a clipper ship fortune, proud of the Mayflower blood that flowed into his veins from both parents, Winsor was early determined to prove the worthiness, nay the nobility, of the New England past. Before the Civil War, he took part in the battles to prove that Massachusetts Puritans (and not Virginia Cavaliers) were the true founding fathers of the republic, and afterwards he was anxious to show the hordes of Irish and Italian immigrants what a real American looked like, but he was not a narrow-minded nativist. Indeed, once he found salaried work, he labored mightily to open education to all the ignorant and unwashed, of whatever ilk. As befit a young Boston Brahmin, Winsor became a trustee of the Boston Public Library in 1867 and then almost immediately its director. At once he threw open its doors, expanded its hours, doubled its collections, and worked to create a reference system that would render its treasures open and usable to a real “public.” Within 9 years he had (his fellow trustees thought) gone much too demotic, and so he transferred his energies and skills to the Harvard library, where he had much the same impact. So Winsor is a hero to all librarians, while I remember him fondly as the creator of the documentary collections (notably his 8-volume Narrative and Critical History) on which I cut my scholarly teeth. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 03 Jan 2018, 14:14

As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851.

Post modernists have raised important points about the difficulties of knowing (let alone arguing about) an author’s intentions. So they might not need to know that on January 3, 1841, a young New Yorker stepped out of his comfort zone to sign up as a common seaman (for 1/175th of the profits) on the maiden voyage of the whaler Acushnet. The young man (he was 22) was Herman Melville, by his own estimation philosophically precocious, and while he was certainly looking for money he may also have been looking for transformation. It was typical of his life that his Acushnet experience brought more transformation than it did money. He jumped ship in the Marquesas, sacrificing his share of the Acushnet’s whale oil, sailed on another ship to Tahiti, got involved in a mutiny, beachcombed, fetched up in Hawaii, beachcombed again, then joined the US Navy for an arduous, sometimes unpleasant voyage home, landing in Boston on October 3, 1844. Those years brought Melville real and imagined experiences, perilous adventures and utter boredom, backbreaking work and luxurious, nay paradisiacal idleness, and he produced from them a remarkable outpouring of prose works (almost all of it but for the unfinished Billy Budd written by 1857). Several of them were “at sea” in the literal sense, notably Typee (1845), Omoo (1847), White-Jacket (1850), and his (now) acknowledged masterwork, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851). Some were deliberate fictions, some presented as factual. But most (notably Moby-Dick) were both. And even the land-bound works (including the miraculous “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, 1853) owed much to the vivid imaginings of a young and tender Jack Tar who placed himself far enough from home, family, and the workaday world that most of humanity inhabits to see plain things metaphorically. Herman Melville, stung by the ill success of his later prose works, retired to that world himself, as customs inspector for the port of New York. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 04 Jan 2018, 14:23

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. Albert Camus, 1954.

Since these ‘anniversary notes’ go out as birthday cards to Honors College students, I generally don’t do deaths, but in the case of an “existentialist” a death date might be the more appropriate remembrance. Albert Camus died, absurdly, in a car crash, on the Riviera, on January 4, 1960. He was not quite 47, far too young, of course; but had he died even younger, say in 1945, we might remember him, in passing only, as a pied-noir whose best efforts to break into the left wing of the French intelligentsia had been barely successful. Or we might think of him as an unfaithful husband to one woman who was trying not very hard to be faithful to another. Or as a young, misguided pacifist who stood aside while France fell to the Nazis. We might find in his favor that, as “Beauchard,” he abandoned his pacifism to work for the Résistance against the German occupation. In 1942 he did also write a novel, L’Étranger, and a philosophical essay, Le mythe de Sisyphe, each good enough to be remembered as a fine start, though of a young man whose promise was blighted by a too early death. More likely, had he died in 1945, we wouldn’t remember him at all, But because Albert Camus survived another 15 years, a wink of time really, we not only remember him but know him as a novelist-philosopher of stature, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature (1957), a writer whose novels, plays, and essays explored the capacity of individual human beings to define freedom and then to use their freedom to resist power (for instance, the power of the arbitrary state), and to defy fate (for instance, death). “Now the only moral value is courage,” he had declared during the occupation, and it was meant as a call to arms in a (literally) hopeless situation. In the years left to him after 1945, he elaborated another moral value, the search for meaning, and thus (in the words of the Nobel citation) “illuminated the problems of the human conscience in our times.” ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 05 Jan 2018, 15:08

Mild, melancholy, and sedate he stands, Tending another's flock upon the fields,/ His father's once, where now the white man builds/ His home, and issues forth his proud commands. 'The Hottentot', byThomas Pringle.

Working class and radical agitators before, during, and after the wars with revolutionary America (and then revolutionary and Napoleonic France) were deeply troubling to Britain’s ruling class(es). At home, outright repression seemed their favored tactic, but one of the more crackpot reformist responses was the settlement scheme of 1819-20. The idea was that those restive poor (those, anyway, who were not mowed down in the Peterloo Massacre of 1819) might be more usefully employed (and more fully occupied) in advancing the empire. At Africa’s southern tip, the once indigent, idle, and dangerous British poor could hold the red line against the Xhosas and Hottentots and the barely more civilized Boers. And the settlers wouldn’t have to work very hard. A bounteous nature and tractable natives (newly domesticated by imperial power) together would provide settlers with “all the luxuries of life.” The prospect appealed to, among others, an underemployed, lame teacher from lowland Scotland, Thomas Pringle, whose poetic reflections on his experience have helped us better to understand the ironies and ambiguities (some of them cruel) of the settlement scheme. They also turned Pringle (born on January 5, 1789) into one whom, today, some would claim as the father of South African poetry. Whether he deserves that status has become a matter of dispute (among historians and literary critics), but the “settlement” experience certainly was not successful in deradicalizing Thomas Pringle. Quite the contrary, as along with a romantic love of the African landscape he developed a lively sympathy for the exploited (black) natives and caught a severe case of anti-imperialism. He would return to Britain to become a very effective leader of the abolition movement, indeed Secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, a post he held for long enough (1827-34) to see the abolition of slavery in the British empire. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Tizer » 06 Jan 2018, 10:50

I might have had an ancestor among those `indigent, idle, and dangerous British poor' who were `settled' in South Africa. My mother's great grandfather was a stone mason who helped build the Dutch Reformed Church in Colesburg, SA, in the mid 1800s. We haven't been able to find him on any passenger lists or trace him back to the UK so we don't know whether he emigrated there or his father was one of the first settlers. His surname, Tyler, seems to have been common in Britain so there's no clues to which part of the UK his ancestors might have hailed from.

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 06 Jan 2018, 13:07

I always had my suspicions about you Tiz....... Here's today's offering.

The best and brightest of his generation. Secretary of State John Hay on Clarence King, 1901.

One fascinating character of Gilded Age America was Clarence King, born on January 6, 1842. His was a family soon pared by death down to Clarence himself and his mother, who indulged Clarence’s love of nature and art and purchased him a good education. At Yale, he converted to exploratory geology as his profession. He made his mark first in surveys of the Sierra Nevada, and then, in 1864, he won a commission to survey the Yosemite Valley (which President Lincoln had proclaimed a permanent public reserve). King next won appointment as the director of the “Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel.” The 40th Parallel Survey, as it became known, involved nearly 7 years of exploration of an extensive territory from northern California to Yellowstone. It attracted not only serious scientists but young gentlemen looking for adventure and direction, one of whom—Henry Adams—joined the Survey for a season in 1871. Adams idolized the West as “the land of the future,” and although his actual experience of it tarnished the idol, he fell quite in love with the figure of King, a man of action and ideas who seemed to Adams to be quite in tune with his time and yet utterly uncorrupted by it. And so it was that a decade later, Adams and King became the nucleus of a famous group. “The Five of Hearts”, comprising Adams, his remarkable wife Clover, John Hay and his wife Clara, and Clarence King. For a too short period (brought to a close by Clover’s suicide) the five formed a kind of ‘society of (social) observation,’ one of intellectual intimacy, good dinners, and some gaiety, punctuated by King’s long absences. What the other four did not know was that in New York City Clarence King pursued another existence, passing as an African-American with an African-American wife and family. This liaison—and it was clearly more than that—came to light on King’s death, in 1901, but left the man himself shrouded still in mystery, which is where, today, we must leave him. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Jan 2018, 14:19

The universal day is to be a mean solar day; is to begin for all the world at the moment of mean midnight of the initial meridian, coinciding with the beginning of the civil day and date of that meridian; and is to be counted from zero up to twenty-fou...

In the 1950s, the Soviet Union went through a phase of claiming Soviet origins for many modern inventions, memorably satirized in Walt Kelly’s comic strip, Pogo, as two Russian visitors to Okefenokee Swamp (Krushie, a very large pig, and Bulgie, a very small parrot) claimed Russian fatherhood for “beisbuhl.” But in truth, Americans were not far behind, and I grew up thinking that standard time zones were yet another expression of Yankee ingenuity. After all, how can you run a transcontinental railway on solar time? And weren’t transcontinental railways an American invention? But in point of fact, the notion of time zones was a Canadian invention, the brainchild of Sandford Fleming. Born on January 7, 1827, in Scotland, Fleming was an apprentice land surveyor who—deciding opportunity lay elsewhere than Fifeshire—emigrated to Ontario with his brother. Never the model of the shy, retiring, modest Canadian (where did that come from, anyway?), Fleming began by mapping Peterborough (Ont.) before transmogrifying into a railway engineer, in which guise (of several Sandford Fleming dramatis personae) he attached himself to a company that became the Canadian Pacific. He had much to do with the creation of the CP’s Transcanadian railway. There’s a picture of him driving the spike (1881), probably not golden (this was Canada, remember) but there’s also a “Sir Sandford” mountain range (Fleming was knighted by Queen Victoria), a Mount Fleming, and across the frozen north you will find many other reminders of this larger-than-life Canadian character, three of his mansions—now museums—and not least a national emblem (not the Maple Leaf, silly!!) for Fleming also designed the first Canadian postage stamp, the 1851 “threepenny beaver.” As for time zones, Fleming’s proposal bore fruit in the 1884 International Meridian Conference (which was held in Washington, DC). And Sandford Fleming, of course, was there at the creation. ©
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