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Posts Tagged ‘British history

“Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!”*…

 

According to the Aberdeen Bestiary: “There is an animal called the Yale. It is black, as big as a horse, with the tail of an elephant, the jaws of a boar and unusually long horns, adjustable to any movement the animal might make. For they are not fixed but move as the needs of fighting require; the Yale advances one of them as it fights, folding the other back, so that if the tip of the first is damaged by a blow, it is replaced by the point of the second.”

Also from the Aberdeen Bestiary, “in Asia an animal is found which men call Bonnacon. It has the head of a bull, and thereafter its whole body is of the size of a bull’s with the maned neck of a horse. Its horns are convoluted, curling back on themselves in such a way that if anyone comes up against it, he is not harmed. But the protection which its forehead denies this monster is furnished by its bowels. For when it turns to flee, it discharges fumes from the excrement of its belly over a distance of three acres, the heat of which sets fire to anything it touches. In this way, it drives off its pursuers with its harmful excrement.”

From a 13th century Bestiary by Hugh of Fouilloy: “There is a beast in the sea which is called a Sawfish, and has immense wings. When this beast has seen a ship making sail on the ocean, it raises its wings above the water and competes with the ship in sailing. (But when it has competed in sailing or racing against the ship) for 30 or 40 furlongs, being unable to sustain the exertion, it gives up, and lowering its wings draws them in. And the waves of the sea carry it back again, tired out, to its own place in the deep.”

These and other curious critters that may or may not have ever existed– but were featured in medieval Bestiaries— at “Ten Strange Medieval Animals You Might Not Have Heard Of.”

* William Golding, Lord of the Flies

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As we contemplate cryptozoology, we might recall that it was on this date in 1953, on the death of her father, George VI, that Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, became Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom (and of 16 of the 53 member states in the Commonwealth of Nations), and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

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Written by LW

February 6, 2015 at 1:01 am

“A dull, decent people, cherishing and fortifying their dullness behind a quarter of a million bayonets”*…

 

BritEmpGlobe

On the heels of the Scottish Referendum, a meditation on the scope of the U.K…

Mitch Fraas, curator at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections, recently sent me this image and GIF of a moveable toy distributed by the Children’s Encyclopedia in Britain in the early twentieth century. The toy, which doubles as an ad for the encyclopedia, takes the old saying “The sun never sets on the British empire” and represents it physically, through the medium of a spinning wheel.

The Children’s Encyclopedia, one of the first such projects directed exclusively at young people, was first sold in Britain as a serial in 1908. The illustrated Encyclopedia addressed a grab-bag of subjects, structured not alphabetically but thematically, with each volume holding information on nineteen different topics (animals, history, literature, geography, the Bible). Like the text on this movable map, the overwhelming tone of the Encyclopedia was optimistic and patriotic, with the United Kingdom’s achievements in science, literature, and war always emphasized.

The Encyclopedia was republished in the United States as The Book of Knowledge,where (its publisher claimed) it sold three and half million sets between 1910 and 1945. Here’s a poem by Howard Nemerov about his childhood experience reading the project’s American edition, which he describes as “The vast pudding of knowledge,/With poetry rare as raisins scattered through/The twelve gold-lettered volumes black and green”…

 

More at the invaluable Rebecca Onion’s “‘The Sun Never Sets Upon the British Empire,’ Explained in GIF by an Old Children’s Toy.”

* George Orwell’s harsh judgement of British imperialism, in Burmese Days

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As we break for a cup of tea, we might recall that it was on this date in 1779 that John Paul Jones, a Scottish sailor who’d immigrated to America and was fighting for the Colonies in the Revolutionary War, became the first American naval hero when he won a hard-fought engagement against the British ships-of-war Serapis and Countess of Scarborough off the east coast of England.  Though Jones went on to serve in the Imperial Russian Navy, he is often called the “Father of the United States Navy” (an honorific he shares with John Barry).

A 1781 painting of John Paul Jones by Charles Willson Peale.

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“There are people who embrace the Oxford comma and those who don’t, and I’ll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken”*…

 

The Oxford comma, so-called because the Oxford University Press style guidelines require it, is the comma before the conjunction at the end of a list. If your preferred style is to omit the second comma in “red, white, and blue,” you are aligned with the anti-Oxford comma faction.The pro-Oxford comma faction is more vocal and numerous in the US, while in the UK, anti-Oxford comma reigns. (Oxford University is an outsider, style-wise, in its own land.) In the US, book and magazine publishers are generally pro, while newspapers are anti, but both styles can be found in both media.

The two main rationales for choosing one style over the other are clarity and economy. Each side has invoked both rationales in its favor. Here are some quotes that have served as shots exchanged in the Oxford comma wars…

Pro: “…use the comma between all members of a series, including the last two, on the commonsense ground that to do so will preclude ambiguities and annoyances at negligible cost.”

Wilson Follett, in his 1966 Modern American Usage, advocates for the comma on the grounds that it can’t really hurt.

Con: “All those commas make the flag seem rained on. They give it a furled look. Leave them out, and Old Glory is flung to the breeze, as it should be.”

This complaint was addressed to Harold Ross, the founding editor of the New Yorker, by James Thurber, who preferred “the red white and blue” to “the red, white, and blue.” Ross, a notorious defender of the serial comma, was impressed by Thurber’s argument and responded, “write a piece about it, and I’ll punctuate the flag any way you want it—in that one piece.”

Pro: “This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God”

A probably apocryphal book dedication, this example has been a favorite of pro-Oxford comma language blogs for a while. Without the comma before “and,” you get a rather intriguing set of parents.

Con: “The English are rather more careful than we are, and commonly put a comma after the next-to-last member of a series, but otherwise are not too precise to offend a red-blooded American.”

H.L. Mencken, who did not use the serial comma himself, implies, in this quote tucked into a supplement to The American Language, that there is something prissy, pedantic, and altogether un-American about the extra comma…

More fuel for the fire in Arika Okrent’s “The Best Shots Fired in the Oxford Comma Wars.”

*  Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

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As we choose sides, we might spare a thought for a regular user of the clarifying comma, Edmund Burke; he died on this date in 1797.  Born in Dublin, he was an author, orator, political theorist, and philosopher, who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party.  He’s probably best remembered for his advocacy of the American and his opposition to the French revolutions.  While Burke was held up as a beacon by both conservatives and liberals in the 19th century, the 20th century generally viewed him as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.

In “Consistency in Politics” Winston Churchill wrote:

On the one hand [Burke] is revealed as a foremost apostle of Liberty, on the other as the redoubtable champion of Authority. But a charge of political inconsistency applied to this life appears a mean and petty thing. History easily discerns the reasons and forces which actuated him, and the immense changes in the problems he was facing which evoked from the same profound mind and sincere spirit these entirely contrary manifestations. His soul revolted against tyranny, whether it appeared in the aspect of a domineering Monarch and a corrupt Court and Parliamentary system, or whether, mouthing the watch-words of a non-existent liberty, it towered up against him in the dictation of a brutal mob and wicked sect. No one can read the Burke of Liberty and the Burke of Authority without feeling that here was the same man pursuing the same ends, seeking the same ideals of society and Government, and defending them from assaults, now from one extreme, now from the other.

And indeed, historian Piers Brendon credits Burke’ paternalistic insistence the colonial domination was a trust, with laying the moral foundations for the British Empire:  Burke wrote that “The British Empire must be governed on a plan of freedom, for it will be governed by no other”– it was to be so exercised for the benefit of subject people that they would eventually attain their birthright—freedom” …a noble aim that was in the event an ideological bacillus, as Brendon observed, that would prove fatal.

“You can never plan the future by the past.”

-Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)

“Justice is itself the great standing policy of civil society; and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all”.

– Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

Burke c. 1767/69, from the studio of Joshua Reynolds

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Written by LW

July 9, 2014 at 1:01 am

“And he made the holy anointing oil, and the pure incense of sweet spices, according to the work of the apothecary”*…

 

“The Anointing of David,” from the Paris Psalter, 10th century (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris).

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The Bible includes various plants that are used often and deemed holy. Some of these plants are psychedelic while others have medical qualities. Both the new and old testament mention the use of these plants in religious purpose. Jesus used shamanic techniques to help establish a stable religion in the name of God.

Holy Anointing Oil

Leviticus 10:6 And Moses said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons, “Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, lest you die, and wrath come upon all the people. But let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord has kindled.7 You shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die, for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.” And they did according to the word of Moses. John 12:3 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Exodus 29:7 Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head and anoint him.

Holy Anointing Oil according to the bible
Pure myrrh, 500 shekels (about 6 kg)
Sweet cinnamon, 250 shekels (about 3 kg)
Calamus, 250 shekels (about 3 kg)
Cassia, 500 shekels (about 6 kg)
Olive oil, one hin (3.7 Liters)

The holy anointing oil is a potent psychedelic extract. The 18 kg of plant material that is extracted into 3.7 liters of olive oil yields a potent essential oil. The holy anointing oil is essentially an anxiolytic-hallucinogen…

For more on how Holy Anointing Oil works, and for a run-down of other hallucinogens in the Holy Book, see “Psychoactive Plants in the Bible.”

* Exodus 37:29

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As we study the Scriptures more closely, we might recall that it was on this date in 1582 that Britain’s second-best-known magician, the necromancer Edward Kelley, first met the best-known: the  mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I, John Dee.

While Dee’s most important legacy was his rich series of contributions to the development of modern science (and his coining of the word “Brittannia” and the phrase “British Empire”), Dee might also be remembered as the man who, while trading on his fame as a sage, served abroad as a spy for the Queen– and signed his reports “007”…  thus inspiring Ian Fleming’s trade-naming of James Bond.

Dee and Kelley

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Written by LW

March 10, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Principles have no real force except when one is well-fed”*…

 

… and sometimes not even then.

Let the binging begin…

… at House of Carbs.

* Mark Twain

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As we treat ourselves to the BBC’s original, which is at least as good, we might recall that it was on this date in 2007 that the British House of Commons voted ten times on a variety of reforms for the upper chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords.  Outright abolition, a wholly appointed house, a 20% elected house, a 40% elected house, a 50% elected house and a 60% elected house were all defeated in turn. But the vote for an 80% elected chamber carried by 305 votes to 267, and the vote for a wholly elected chamber was won by an even greater margin: 337 to 224.  Significantly, this last vote, won by an overall majority of MPs, had political authority.

Still, this was only an “indicative” vote; the House of Lords rejected the proposal.

The House of Lords in session

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Written by LW

March 7, 2014 at 1:01 am

Then and now…

 

Filmmaker Simon Smith has come up with a clever way to show how much (or little) London has changed over the last century.

In the 1920s, Claude Friese-Greene filmed his travels around Great Britain for a project called The Open Road. He used a film coloring process based on the one his father developed, exposing black and white film through color filters. Claude’s project still captivates viewers today; the British Film Institute eventually restored and re-released it for a 21st century audience.

The London portion of The Open Road inspired Smith to make his own, matching version. In his six-month project, titled London In 1927 and 2013, Smith re-shot each of the scenes Friese-Greene documented 86 years prior. He then lined it up with the 1927 footage for comparison…

email readers click here for Smith’s film

Read more at “London, Then and Now (1927 to 2013)”; and see Friese-Greene’s The Open Road here.

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As we redouble our efforts to master The Knowledge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1915 that Great Yarmouth became the first British town attacked from the air in WWI, when two German zeppelins (which had intended to attack Hull, but gone astray) dropped bombs on the Norfolk port.  Zeppelin attacks continued and soon reached London… “shaping” the urban landscape that Friese-Greene captured just over a decade later.

The aftermath of a zeppelin bombing in London. 1915

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Written by LW

January 19, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing”*…

 

The Robe à la Française, a gown popular throughout much of the 18th century, consists of an open front robe exposing a highly decorative underskirt, double box pleats at the back showcasing expansive ornate Rococo textiles, a square neckline and a conical shaped bodice achieved by a stomacher. The stomacher, or the triangular panel at the front of the bodice, was a separate component of the dress and often featured elaborate ornamentation. Zac Posen’s Fall 2013 showcase, featured a golden yellow gown with a similar triangular shaped bodice. This 18th-century reference was not constructed with an additional panel, rather through clever gathers and darts.

 

Lilah Ramzi is a graduate student of fashion history fascinated by the antecedents of modern couture…

I have come to the realization that much of the creative material produced and designed today has its roots in a previous incarnation or is essentially part nouveau.

Part Nouveau can be used to characterize fashion photography, fashion trends and ultimately anything within the creative field that borrows, reappropriates or is directly inspired by a work which preceded it.

The blog seeks to aid our contemporary eyes, so used to being presented with the newest and latest within the creative world, to recognize and give credit to what has come before.

 

In 1937, Elsa Schiaparelli launched the fragrance Shocking de Schiaparelli, packaged in bottles which resembled a female figure. The curves were supposedly based on those of the provocative actress Mae West, who also served as a muse to surrealist artist Salvator Dali in the creation of a mouth-shaped sofa modeled after West’s bee-stung lips. Jean Paul Gaultier’s similar body-shaped bottles have become a signature design throughout the brand’s range of fragrances.

 

Viennese Secessionist artist Gustav Klimt’s gold-leafed, kaleidoscopic paintings have been referenced, reinterpreted and looked to for inspiration by countless artists and designers. In Judith and the Head of Holofernes, Klimt presents us with his version of the biblical tale featuring his muse and reported lover, the Austrian socialite Adele Bloch-Bauer. In describing her F/W 2013 collection to Vogue, designer L’Wren Scott revealed, “I’m having a gold moment” looking to Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Bloch-Bauer for inspiration.

 

Keith Haring began his short career in 1978, producing paintings, sculptures and murals in his signature cartoon-like graphics until his premature death in 1990. Haring’s philosophy to heighten the accessibility of his art was reinforced by his Pop Shop, a store which carried Haring memorabilia, home goods and clothing all featuring Haring’s signature designs. In 2011, shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood paid homage to Haring with a collection of footwear showcasing Haring’s aesthetic and in doing so, continuing Haring’s commitment to enhance his artistic reach.

 

See more exploration of Picasso’s famous assertion that “good artists copy; great artists steal” at Part Nouveau.

*Salvador Dali

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As we watch our backs (as it is, after all, the Ides of March), we might recall that it was on this date in 1949 that clothes rationing ended in England.  Introduced on June 1, 1941, two years after food rationing, the program was an effort to assure fair access, but also to limit consumer spending and free up manufacturing capacity critical to te war effort (and subsequently, to economic recovery).  As the Imperial War Museum explains

When buying new clothes, the shopper had to hand over coupons with a ‘points’ value as well as money. Each item of clothing had a points value, usually displayed alongside the price. The more fabric and labour that was needed to produce a garment, the more points required.

Children’s clothes had lower points values in recognition of the fact that they would need new clothes more often. Pregnant women were given an extra allocation for maternity and baby clothes. Clothing exchanges were set up by the Women’s Voluntary Service to help meet the needs of women struggling to clothe their growing families.

Many women used furnishing fabrics for dressmaking until these too went on the ration. Blackout material, which did not need points, was also sometimes used. Parachute silk was highly prized for underwear, nightclothes and wedding dresses.

Ration coupon books

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Written by LW

March 15, 2013 at 1:01 am

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