BOB'S BITS

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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 07 Dec 2018, 13:05

Kitāb Suwar al-Kawākib al-Thābitah. The Book of the Constellations of the Fixed Stars, circa 964 CE.

Although the Dark Ages are no longer quite so Dark, the phrase does describe a span of centuries during which the West slept largely unaware of classical tradition, especially unknowing of Greek mathematics and science. Luckily, many manuscripts had passed into the hands of Muslim scholars, who not only translated them (into local vernaculars as well as classical Arabic) but also studied them, edited them, and corrected them. Among the most famous of these cultural and scientific lamplighters was Ἁbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī, born in Persia on December 7, 903. He spent most of his long life in Shiraz or Isfahan as court astronomer to a succession of sultans. Al-Sūfī’s chief muse, however (besides the heavens themselves) were the observations of Ptolemy, notably those preserved in the Almagest (circa 160 AD). Al-Sūfī’s own observations are preserved in his Book of Fixed Stars (ca. 964 CE), recognized as effecting many significant advances on Ptolemy. Most notable perhaps was his understanding of perspective, gained by traveling throughout the Arab world and triangulating the heavens through (almost always) clear, clean desert air. So he mapped most of his constellations not only as he saw them—from earth—but as he imagined them from some universal perspective, above the firmament. Given time and better instruments, Al-Sūfī might have abandoned geocentrism, but that was left to Copernicus. Of course the Arab constellations, many of them, were different from the Greek (after all, locals had been naming their own for years), but in almost every case Al-Sūfī compared his culture’s heavenly beasts and heroes with Ptolemy’s. The result is not only a great landmark work in the history of astronomy, but an artifact of stunning beauty. A brief tour of the internet will unearth several heavenly pictures for you, most of them apparently drawn from Oxford’s copy of Ἁbd al-Raḥmān al-Ṣūfī’s Book of Fixed Stars, one of the oldest in existence today. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 08 Dec 2018, 13:07

[this occasion is] a prophecy of still greater national enlightenment and progress in the future. Frederick Douglass, April 1876.at the dedication of the Freedman's Memorial.

Among the Civil War statues that has not yet been removed is the Emancipation Memorial, Lincoln Park, Washington, D. C. It’s sometimes called the Freedman’s Memorial because it was largely paid for by subscriptions from freed slaves (starting with $5 from Charlotte Scott). Frederick Douglass donated too, and moreover he spoke honestly and eloquently at the dedication in 1876. Privately, Douglass didn’t like it much, for it depicted the freed slave kneeling, an “unmanly” attitude he thought, under the outstretched arm of a benevolent Lincoln. So in his speech, Douglass memorably focused on Lincoln. But subsequent history has made the freedman the subject and focus of Thomas Ball’s statue; his is a strong figure, crouched (not kneeling), as if starting a race, bursting with energy and looking upwards. And now in his field of vision is another statue, of Mary McLeod Bethune, born in freedom in 1875 to become a great educator. The model for the older statue was once a Missouri slave, Archer Alexander, a man who in 1862 made himself free by escaping from his Warren County master but who even before that had acted as spy and guide for the Union Army in Missouri. Archer Alexander’s freedom was indubitably of his own making, but he was taken in by William Greenleaf Eliot, Unitarian minister, founder of Washington University (and T. S.’s grandpa). Eliot didn’t approve of runaways, but he hated slavery worse, and Archer Alexander (and his wife, Louisa) stayed in the Eliot orbit until Alexander’s death, aged 80, on December 8, 1879. Eliot (who had suggested Alexander as the model, and sent his picture to Ball) and his son Christopher were there at the deathbed, and Eliot noted that Alexander’s last words thanked God that he was going to die in freedom and not in chains. Just so, in Ball’s statue, the shackles are broken and Archer Alexander’s figure looks towards the future. It’s a keeper, that statue, and it should stay. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 09 Dec 2018, 12:29

What in me is dark Illumin . . . That I . . . may assert Eternal Providence, And justifie the wayes of God to men. Book I, Paradise Lost.

John Milton has figured in these notes before, but having just read his Christmas poem, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” (“This is the month, and this the happy morn . . .”), I’ll give the greatest poet in English a break and again remember that this was also the month of Milton’s own birth, December 9, 1608. His father had been disinherited for his Protestantism, but recovered well enough to have young John painted (at age 10) and then to send him off to Cambridge where, despite a few run-ins with his tutors, John took the MA. Some good poetry ensued, notably Il Penseroso, then the Grand Tour of Europe where he met Grotius and Galileo and consorted with Calvinists. When he returned to London he settled down as a schoolmaster, but the world intervened with the English Civil War, where Milton predictably took the side of the Puritans and Parliament, but his disagreements with them on liberty of conscience and freedom of speech produced (1644) The Areopagitica, still as worthwhile as any of his poetry. After the regicide, Milton became a chief propagandist for the Commonwealth government, which brought him trouble when monarchy was restored, in 1660, but luckily for us his absence from public affairs (and his disappointment in them) produced his masterpiece, Paradise Lost (1667), the writing of which was rendered difficult by Milton’s blindness. He composed by dictation, which may account for its remarkable verbal flow and its then-revolutionary free verse form, until Milton not much heard outside the theatre. John Milton is memorialized in Poet’s Corner, in the Abbey Church of Westminster, London. He wasn’t put there immediately, for he was (in Samuel Johnson’s words) an “an acrimonious and surly republican,” but time heals all wounds, even severed heads, and Johnson, lexicographer supreme, had to recognize Milton’s genius with words and their rhythms—and so he did. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 11 Dec 2018, 18:25

I had the opportunity in my little speech to say that I esteemed my highest honour to be a Christian. John Howard, 1883, reporting on his speech accepting a medal for his work on quinine.

The Old English word for a rocky hill translated into modern English as “cloud,” which is a great idea for some clouds. But clouds come in all shapes, and in the 18th century an English Quaker (and scientist), Luke Howard, coined more names. Goethe liked the names so much that he wrote poems about them, dedicating the poems to Howard. We still use those names. But this not is not about clouds; it’s about quinine, and the role played by Luke’s son in studying quinine’s chemistry and how best to produce it. John Eliot Howard was born on December 11, 1807. As a Quaker, he couldn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge, and so like many Protestant dissenters he studied at home and in his father’s business (pharmaceuticals). There he developed his interest in quinine. He didn’t discover it, of course. Peruvian Indians used it for chills from time out of mind, and well before Howard got hold of it, quinine was a well-known specific for a number of ills. Howard applied his skills as a gardener and chemist, and his wealth as a traveler, to find and produce better quinine. What exactly was cinchona bark made of? What was its active ingredient? Which species of cinchona tree produced the best bark? How might the best qualities of that tree be improved through hybridization? Howard built on good work done by other scientists, mainly in France, but accomplished so much on his own that he was rewarded by a grateful queen (that was Victoria) and elected to the Royal Society by grateful fellow scientists. He continued his scientific work all his life, but he, his wife Maria, and most of their nine children were at least as interested in religion, first in Quakerism and then as leaders of the Plymouth Brethren. Quinine itself remained the preferred treatment for malaria until the mid 20th century. One feels quite sure that John Eliot Howard would not have approved of quinine’s current main use, mixed with gin, even though it still does help to cool the fevered brow. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 12 Dec 2018, 03:51

This one slipped the net.

FW: If a man . . . can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house. Emerson.

Emerson never did say “build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” But he said something similar, and he might have been thinking of Matthias Baldwin who, before he left his name forever imprinted on railway engines invented quite a bit of stuff. Matthias Baldwin was born on December 10, 1795, in New Jersey. His father died in 1799, leaving the family comfortable, but incompetent trustees lost that fortune. So Matthias Baldwin made his own good luck, beginning as an apprentice jeweler. His apprenticeship was a Ben Franklin experience, so he struck out on his own. As a jeweler he invented a new process for gold plating. He next moved into printing and bookbinding, inventing as he went. One of his inventions, a rotary printing ‘drum,’ seemed to him to work better with steam power, so in 1828 he built a steam engine fitted to the printing press, another profitable invention. Steam power turned Matthias Baldwin’s head, and when in the next year he heard of the Rainhill Trials in England, he pirated George Stephenson’s design for the Rocket, and soon Matthias Baldwin’s printing and bookbinding firm was making steam engines for the nascent American railway industry. This time he was careful to record his own patents, and he waxed wealthy. By the time of his death in 1866 the Baldwin company had produced over 1500 railway engines which sold very well except in the South. That’s partly because the South, wedded to slavery, didn’t build many railways, but it’s also because the South, wedded to slavery, couldn’t brook Matthias Baldwin’s virulent abolitionism or his generous charitable support of schools and other institutions for free blacks. Had they bought more “Baldwins,” southerners’ war to save slavery might have succeeded. As it happened, instead, Matthias Baldwin’s locomotives kept the Union army well-supplied, his abolitionism became the Union cause, his inventiveness became an American credo, and the Baldwin works went on to produce over 75,000 railway engines. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 12 Dec 2018, 13:48

Why don't we have a little game? Let's pretend that we're human beings, and that we're actually alive. John Osborne, Look Back in Anger, 1956.

When I entered the Wharton School in 1961, it was undergoing a curricular reform meant to insure that business majors became civilized persons. Now we know it didn’t work for everybody, but if it worked for me the main vehicle was its year-long freshman English course. I did not do well in it (one of my papers got a grade of 8%!!), but it did well by me. It was designed, I think, by Jerre Mangione, a passable novelist and brilliant scholar, and one thing he wanted us to know was that not all classic literature was ancient. So we read contemporary works, the most modern being John Osborne’s play, Look Back in Anger, first performed in London in 1956 and thus very warm off the presses. We learned about how best to read a play, including reading it aloud and with feeling, and we were pleased to learn from our reading that it was OK to be young and, well, angry. John Osborne himself was fairly young and very angry. He was born on December 12, 1929, into a family struggling to raise itself. It didn’t succeed, but it gave Osborne leave to wear faintly good working-class credentials on his sleeve despite his fluke-ish attendance at a minor public school. Somehow Osborne acquired an ambition to write but at first didn’t find success in writing (or in love), and much of his frustration with the way things were boiled up on paper as Look Back in Anger. He wrote it in 17 days, in Morecambe, a rather grim seaside resort, but the play’s success can’t have been because of that. I lived only a few miles from Morecambe for 27 years and produced nothing as brilliant as Osborne’s play, one so “full of self-pitying snivel” (to quote an early review) as to imbue a whole generation (my own) with the idea that it was a far, far better thing to be furious than to snivel. And just in case we didn’t get it, Mangione’s Freshman English also required Catcher in the Rye (1951), where Holden Caulfield proved to our great satisfaction that one didn’t have to snivel, anyway. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 13 Dec 2018, 13:19

One must forgive one's enemies, but not before they are hanged. Heinrich Heine, 1848.

Lynn Case’s ‘Modern Europe’ survey turned me into an historian, and among my memories of it was Case’s use of the poet Heinrich Heine to explain, or to gauge, the impact of the French Revolution on European life and culture. Heine was born on December 13, 1797, in a small German principality that came under Napoleon’s direct rule, which Heine remembered as a time of reform (e.g. trial by jury and by a modern law code) and liberation (liberté, égalité, fraternité, etc.). It all came crashing down with Napoleon’s fall in 1814-15, and Heine spent the rest of his life bemoaning the loss, not least because his small state was absorbed by Prussia, a rising power that identified modernity with repression rather than with liberation. But Heine moaned in style, with glorious poetry and the best of satire (at once funny and savage). This satirical streak distanced Heine from the Romantic movement and its taste for affirmation through “Nature.” For Heine, German reaction soured everything, even blue flowers. He did make efforts to become “more German,” e.g. converting to Lutheranism, but his irrepressible spirit (in print and in life) made Germany too hot for Heine, even in the liberal ‘free city’ of Hamburg, and from 1831 he spent most of the rest of his life in France, still loosing his arrows (mainly poetry and satires) in the general direction of the German states, and not just against royalties and their ruling aristocracies but also the political quiescence of most Germans. In this Heine found some solace and support from his cousin, Karl Marx, but for Heine Marx’s proletariat was too “lumpen” and his dismissal of culture as a merely material construct too sweeping, so the cousins at length went their separate ways. Heine spent his last years abed and ill with, as it turns out, lead poisoning. Much later, his books were burned by the Nazis, which Heine would have regarded as a tribute. And it was. ©.
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 14 Dec 2018, 13:13

A man only in the ring, a child out of it. Jem Ward, as described in a sporting paper, 1824.

My Uncle Ed called boxing a gentleman’s sport. Teddy Roosevelt would have agreed, but both of them meant amateur boxing, where young gents vying for honors from club or college could prove their manhood while blooding themselves with something other than swords. Professional boxing was a different sport. To be sure it attracted crowds “of persons of varying character and class,” but most of its practitioners were rough sorts, graduates of the barroom brawl rather than the college club. Some were rough diamonds, though, and in 19th-century England one of the roughest of these was the “Black Diamond” himself, James “Jem” Ward, born (probably) on December 14, 1800 near the docks at Shadwell, London, where his father was a “ballast-heaver.” Jem followed to the docks, where he became a “coal-whipper” by day (thus his nickname) and an increasingly adept pugilist (“miller”) evenings and weekends. By the 1820s he was known far and wide, often boxing in open fields. In 1825, at Warwick, Jem claimed the championship of Britain and the stupendous sum of £1,000 by knocking out Tom Cannon. Some disputes over Jem Ward’s sportsmanship preceded and followed that match (he threw a fight in 1822 and refused one in 1828), but it was still a rather irregular sport and he reclaimed the championship (and a new belt) in 1829. Ward retired in 1831, unbowed and rarely beaten. He married a concert pianist, Eliza Cooper (the daughter of another “miller”), and became a painter of note (often painting boxing scenes as well as landscapes), as if to prove his “rough diamond” credentials. The couple ran several pubs in Liverpool and London, finishing up at the Sir John Falstaff near Covent Garden where, often, Eliza played the piano while Jem accompanied her on various instruments: guitar, violin, or flute. The pub still exists, and you can hear music there, but in 1884 Jem Ward joined Eliza (and their grandson) at the Nunhead Cemetery. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 15 Dec 2018, 13:44

"Too late! This is fidelity." Or, "What an artist dies in me." Alternative versions of the Emperor Nero's dying words, 68 CE.

Tom Paine was hardly the first to point out that one of the great evils of monarchy (nepotism) was also one of its greatest weaknesses. Just as monarchy’s chief recruiting tool is birth, notoriously a lottery, so the monarch or emperor is often forced to depend on family for support. The “family” may or may not be competent but at least the head of it can hope they are ‘nearest and dearest.’ But Roman emperors often found that their family members were neither near nor dear. A good for instance was Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, born on December 15 in the year 37. That wasn’t his name originally, but he was about as well-connected as one could be with the imperial family. He was Caligula’s nephew, Caesar Augustus’s grandnephew, and Marc Antony’s grandson. His adoptive father was the emperor Claudius, who gave him the ‘Nero’ moniker and made him next in the Julio-Claudian line of gods-emperors. But Nero’s was a family whose best skill lay in killing each other, and Nero got right into the swing of things by doing away with his mother, Agrippina (who’d married Claudius, then probably killed him) and his step-brother Britannicus on the possibly well-founded suspicion that they intended to do away with him. By this time, 65 CE, young Nero had become old with worries, including suspecting his wife Octavia (who was Claudius’s daughter) of adultery—so he had her killed, too, and then killed his own mistress-wife, Poppaea, but (pretending grief) deified her. He killed a few others, too, and had (thus) become the last of his line. Meanwhile, Nero had lost the support of the Senate and, perhaps, the populace, and decided in 68 CE to commit suicide rather than be murdered, but he lacked the courage to fire himself and had his chief of staff (not a family member!!) do his very last ‘dirty deed.’ Nero may also have set fire to the city, but since no fiddles were available he would have played on a lyre while Rome burned. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 16 Dec 2018, 12:35

I think I shall write this up when I come out; it should make a small monograph. Harold Walter Bailey's last recorded words, in hospital, in Cambridge, 1996.

When his 5-year old son died, Emerson wrote in his diary “he were a better man than I,” later composing “Threnody” about “The gracious boy who did adorn/ The world whereinto he was born.” Emerson thought grace and genius were born in all and ever ready to spring into glorious bloom. If you wanted to prove that point you might begin with Sir Harold Walter Bailey, for many years Professor of Sanskrit and fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge. Sanskrit was not really “his” language, though he was adept in it and in about 50 other tongues. He’s best known as a scholar of Persian languages ancient and modern. But at his birth (December 16, 1899) he started tabula rasa, the son of a common laborer. He did get some schooling in England, but at 10 his family took up their unskilled labors on an outback farm at Nangeenan, Western Australia. There was no schooling there, and much hard labor, but Bailey somehow came upon a 7-volume encyclopedia and four “teach yourself” books with lessons on Greek, Latin, German, Italian, and Spanish. Finishing those in short order, he started in on Arabic and Persian, whereupon the University of Western Australia thought best to take him in hand for a classics degree (MA on Euripides, 1927). A short six years on, and he had an Oxford D.Phil (on Zoroastrianism, 1933), and 3 years later the Cambridge chair. Bailey had a very long career marked by grace and genius, and generosity. Early on, hearing that the Danish scholar Kaj Barr was embarked on the same project, Bailey withdrew and sent Barr all his notes. After Bailey’s own retirement (in 1967), he made the major donations (in money, books, and time) that not only established Cambridge’s India and Iran Trust but also gave it a house and garden (the gardening was Bailey’s, for he was, remember, once a farm laborer). When he died (1996), his eulogist called him Queens’ greatest scholar since Erasmus, a sort of Emersonian claim that none cared to challenge. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 17 Dec 2018, 13:42

You know my part of the work is such a hum-drum . . . I just grease the old engine and watch the wheels go round. Harriet Upton to Anne Miller, June 26, 1907.

An unsung heroine of the women’s suffrage movement, Harriet Taylor Upton, was born in Ohio on December 17, 1853. Her father was Judge Ezra Taylor who—anti-slavery to the core—would join the Republican party and, later, serve in Congress (replacing James Garfield in the House of Representatives). Thus Harriet gained entrée to national politics, and made the most of it, becoming acquainted with several presidents (and friend to their wives). Whatever her father thought of women voting, her husband was OK with it, and once converted to the cause (in 1890, by none other than Susan B. Anthony) Harriet pursued its goals with such astonishing energy that the Uptons’ home served for a time as the HQ for the National Women’s Suffrage Association. The house (willed to Harriet by her father) was in Warren, Ohio, hardly at the center of things but for Harriet’s drive. Soon business grew so that she took it into the new wing of the Trumbull County Courthouse (surely a constitutional oddity if not downright illegal). Harriet later acquiesced in moving it to New York City and then Washington, D. C. She still regarded Warren as home, and so traveled a great deal, speaking, fundraising, and friendraising. She also found time to make herself into a respected amateur historian (of Ohio’s Western Reserve and its reforming spirit) and author of several children’s books. No fool she, her letters abound with accurate reflections on male politicians and their level of real commitment to the suffrage struggle (she was very sharpish on the subject of Woodrow Wilson). Harriet was alive and well for the triumph of 1920, but for her, being voted on to the Warren school board was reward enough. After Mr. Upton’s death, hard times forced a sheriff’s sale of her beloved house. Harriet died in Pasadena in 1945. Her house has recently been restored and, rightly, is now a charmingly modest historical monument open to the public. ©
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Re: BOB'S BITS

Post by Stanley » 18 Dec 2018, 13:45

“I am GRIM ALL DAY, but I make you laugh at night.” Joseph Grimaldi, Memoirs.

The fool (or clown, or jester) is as old as entertainment itself, and Shakespeare elevated the role with such as The Fool (in King Lear), Nick Bottom, Puck (both in A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and Feste (in Twelfth Night). Their foolishness was often wisdom in disguise, even poor Yorick, alas, that dead “fellow of infinite jest” in Hamlet. But the clown as the center of attention, hair askew, flushed of face (and nose), costume utterly outlandish, colors clashing, the clown as one who might make athleticism funny; that modern clown owes more to Joseph (Joe) Grimaldi, born near Clare Market, London, on December 18, 1778, who imported into the English theatre the talents that had made his grandpa (Giovanni “Iron Legs” Grimaldi), the toast of Italy and then of France. In this Joe Grimaldi also followed his dad Guiseppe and his mother Rebecca Brooker, who were made famous at Drury Lane by the actor-director-entrepreneur David Garrick. Joe’s theatrical career began when he danced (at age 3!!) out of Pandora’s Box (a pantomime) at Sadler’s Wells. He was one of the evils loosed on the world, out of the box so to speak, and that air of mischief or misrule or mischance would characterize most of Grimaldi’s roles, most of his life. He did take ‘serious’ parts occasionally, and to acclaim, but mostly he was the clown of clowns, indeed often called ‘the king of clowns.’ And he transformed Shakespeare’s rural rustics and court jesters into the stars of many shows, usually pantos, usually at Sadler’s Wells, Drury Lane, or Covent Garden but sometimes on circuit; and there was a whole year in Dublin (1805-6). His many admirers included such as Lord Byron (who attended his performances often and gave him a silver snuff box); and editing Grimaldi’s memoirs was one of the first writing jobs of none other than Charles Dickens. Worn out by the sheer physicality of his clowning, Joe Grimaldi retired in 1825 and died in 1832. ©
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