Tag Archives: history

Konungs skuggsjá – by the pricking of my thumbs…(don’t) release the kraken!

Giant_octopus_attacks_ship 

There are certain varieties of whales in the seas of Iceland that may be eaten by men. One of these is called humpback; this fish is large and very dangerous to ships. It has a habit of striking at the vessel with its fins and of lying and floating just in front of the prow where sailors travel. Though the ship turns aside, the whale will continue to keep in front, so there is no choice but to sail upon it—but if a ship does sail upon it, the whale will throw the vessel and destroy all on board. Then there is a kind of whale called the rorqual, and this fish is the best of all for food. It is of a peaceful disposition and does not bother ships, though it may swim very close to them. Because of its quiet and peaceful behavior it often falls a prey to whale fishers. It is better for eating and smells better than any of the other fishes that we have talked about, though it is said to be very fat; it has no teeth. It has been asserted, too, that if one can get some of the sperm of this whale and be perfectly sure that it came from this sort and no other, it will be found a most effective remedy for eye troubles, leprosy, ague, headache, and for every other ill that afflicts mankind. Sperm from other whales also makes good medicine, though not so good as this sort.

Then there is one that is scarcely advisable to speak about, on account of its size, which to most men will seem incredible. There are, moreover, but very few who can tell anything definite about it, inasmuch as it is rarely seen by men—for it almost never approaches the shore or appears where fishermen can see it, and I doubt that this sort of fish is very plentiful in the sea. In our language it is usually called the kraken. I can say nothing definite as to its length, for on those occasions when men have seen it, it has appeared more like an island than a fish. Nor have I heard that one has ever been caught or found dead. It seems likely that there are but two in all the ocean and that these beget no offspring, for I believe it is always the same ones that appear. It is said that when these fishes want something to eat, they are in the habit of giving forth a violent belch, which brings up so much food that all sorts of fish in the neighborhood, both large and small, will rush up in the hope of getting nourishment and good fare. Meanwhile the monster keeps its mouth open, and inasmuch as its opening is about as wide as a sound or fjord, the fishes cannot help crowding in in great numbers. But as soon as its mouth and belly are full, the monster closes its mouth and thus catches and shuts in all the fishes that just previously had rushed in eagerly to seek food.

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Originally quoted in Lapham’s Quarterly, which says: From The King’s Mirror. Composed in Old Norse during King Hákon Hákonarson’s reign (1217-1263), this anonymous instructive work takes the form of a father-son dialog and may have been intended for the king’s sons. The kraken, a fabled sea monster of Scandinavian invention, may have originated with a rare sighting of a giant squid. In addition to the humpback variety, the text mentions Greenland right, horse, red-comb, and white whales.

Common misconceptions

There’s an excellent list of common misconceptions on Wikipedia, which Kottke has helpfully pointed out. Among them, some of my favourites:

In ancient Rome, the architectural feature called a vomitorium was the entranceway through which crowds entered and exited a stadium, not a special room used for purging food during meals.[1] Vomiting was not a regular part of Roman dining customs.[2]

It is true that mean life expectancy in the Middle Ages and earlier was low; however, many take this to mean that people usually died around the age of 30.[5] In fact, the low life expectancy is an average very strongly influenced by high infant mortality, and the life expectancy of people who lived to adulthood was much higher. A 21-year-old man in medieval England, for example, could by one estimate expect to live to the age of 64.[6]

George Washington did not have wooden teeth. His dentures were made of gold, hippopotamus ivory, lead, and human and animal teeth (including horse and donkey teeth).[34]

Some people believe that food items cooked with wine or liquor will be totally non-alcoholic, because alcohol’s low boiling point causes it to evaporate quickly when heated. However, a study found that some of the alcohol remains: 25% after 1 hour of baking or simmering, and 10% after 2 hours.[88][89]

Meteorites are not necessarily hot when they reach the Earth. In fact, many meteorites are found with frost on them. As they enter the atmosphere, having been warmed only by the sun, meteors have a temperature below freezing. The intense heat produced during passage through the upper atmosphere at very high speed then melts a meteor’s outside layer, but molten material is blown off and the interior does not have time to warm appreciably. Most meteorites fall through the relatively cool lower atmosphere for as long as several minutes at subsonic velocity before reaching the ground, giving plenty of time for their exterior to cool off again.[170]

When a spacecraft reenters the atmosphere, the heat of reentry is not (primarily) caused by friction, but by adiabatic compression of air in front of the spacecraft.[171][172]

There is a legend that Marco Polo imported pasta from China[20] which originated with the Macaroni Journal, published by an association of food industries with the goal of promoting the use of pasta in the United States.[21] Marco Polo describes a food similar to “lagana” in his Travels, but he uses a term with which he was already familiar. Durum wheat, and thus pasta as it is known today, was introduced by Arabs from Libya, during their conquest of Sicilyin the late 7th century, according to the newsletter of the National Macaroni Manufacturers Association,[22] thus predating Marco Polo’s travels to China by about six centuries.

It is rarely necessary to wait 24 hours before filing a missing person’s report; in instances where there is evidence of violence or of an unusual absence, law enforcement agencies in the United States often stress the importance of beginning an investigation promptly.[77][78][79] The UK government Web site says explicitly in large type “You don’t have to wait 24 hours before contacting the police”[80].

Searing meat does not “seal in” moisture, and in fact may actually cause meat to lose moisture. Generally, the value in searing meat is that it creates a brown crust with a rich flavor via the Maillard reaction.[86][87]

All different tastes can be detected on all parts of the tongue by taste buds,[261] with slightly increased sensitivities in different locations depending on the person, contrary to the popular belief that specific tastes only correspond to specific mapped sites on the tongue.[262] The original tongue map was based on a mistranslation of a 1901 German thesis[263] by Edwin Boring. In addition, there are not 4 but 5 primary tastes. In addition to bittersoursalty, and sweet, humans have taste receptors for umami, which is a savory or meaty taste.[264][265][266]

Humans have more than the commonly cited five senses. Although definitions vary, the actual number ranges from 9 to more than 20. In addition to sightsmelltastetouch, and hearing, which were the senses identified by Aristotle, humans can sense balance and acceleration (equilibrioception), pain (nociception), body and limb position (proprioception or kinesthetic sense), and relative temperature (thermoception).[267] Other senses sometimes identified are the sense of time, itching, pressure, hunger, thirst, fullness of the stomach, need to urinate, need to defecate, and blood carbon dioxide levels.[268][269]

Toilet waste is never intentionally jettisoned from an aircraft. All waste is collected in tanks which are emptied on the ground by toilet waste vehicles.[431] Blue ice is caused by accidental leakage from the waste tank. Passenger trains, on the other hand, have historicallyflushed onto the tracks; however, modern trains usually have retention tanks on board.

(An excellent list, no? Full list here)

Hitler sketch. Armstrong & Miller.

The Guy Quote – Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln (1809 – 1865) was the 16th President of the United States, well clever and well tall. He was only president for four years, from 1861 until his assassination in 1865, but in that short time he led his country through enormous change and adversity. We’re talking constitutional, military and moral crisis (American Civil War), during which he preserved the Union, ended slavery, sorted out the economy and the financial system. And this on top of a brutal route to office. I liked doing this post. His quotes aren’t too fancy, they’re practical and meaty and some of them are very funny. He must have been a very skilled judge of character. Wonder what his voice sounded like.


“Some day I shall be President.”

No silver spoons here. Lincoln was born into a poor family on the western frontier. Mostly self-educated, he started out as a country lawyer, then became a state legislator and a one-term member of the House of Representatives…the rest was grind.

[this next bit is edited from Wikipedia] In 1859-60, he opposed the expansion of slavery in the US in his campaign debates and speeches, secured the Republican nomination and was elected president in 1860. Before Lincoln took office in March, seven southern slave states declared their secession and formed the Confederacy. When war began with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, Lincoln concentrated on both the military and political dimensions of the war effort, seeking to reunify the nation. He vigorously exercised unprecedented war powers, including the arrest and detention without trial of thousands of suspected secessionists. He prevented British recognition of the Confederacy by skillfully handling the Trent affair late in 1861. His efforts toward abolition include issuing his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and encouraging Congress to propose what would become the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Lincoln closely supervised the war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including commanding general Ulysses S. Grant. He brought leaders of various factions of his party into his cabinet and pressured them to cooperate…Each time a general failed, Lincoln substituted another until finally Grant succeeded in 1865.

As the leader of the moderate faction of the Republican party, Lincoln found his policies and personality were “blasted from all sides”: Radical Republicansdemanded harsher treatment of the South, War Democrats desired more compromise, Copperheads despised him, and irreconcilable secessionists plotted his death. Politically, Lincoln fought back with patronage, pitted his opponents against each other, and appealed to the American people with his oratory. His Gettysburg Address of 1863 became the most quoted speech in American history. It was an iconic statement of America’s dedication to the principles of nationalism, equal rights, liberty, and democracy.

At the close of the war, Lincoln held a moderate view of Reconstruction, seeking to reunite the nation speedily through a policy of generous reconciliation in the face of lingering and bitter divisiveness. But six days after the surrender of Confederate commanding general Robert E. Lee, Lincoln was assassinated by Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre.

A woman is the only thing I am afraid of that I know will not hurt me.

Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.

You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man’s initiative and independence.

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.

Don’t worry when you are not recognised, but strive to be worthy of recognition.

I walk slowly, but I never walk backward.

Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.

All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.

Every one desires to live long, but no one would be old.

I can make more generals, but horses cost money.

My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.

Everybody likes a compliment.

I will prepare and some day my chance will come.

What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.

Whatever you are, be a good one.

No matter how much cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens.

Important principles may, and must, be inflexible.

Avoid popularity if you would have peace.

I don’t know who my grandfather was; I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be.

Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.

You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.

When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.

When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.

These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty.

Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all.

The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.

When I am getting ready to reason with a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I am going to say and two-thirds about him and what he is going to say.

There is another old poet whose name I do not now remember who said, “Truth is the daughter of Time.”

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

He has a right to criticise, who has a heart to help.

Marriage is neither heaven nor hell, it is simply purgatory.

It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.

How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.

The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.

Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible.

The Gettysburg address:

NB. read it out loud, don’t just read it to yourself.

(short backstory – an amazing piece of oratory delivered to commemorate soldiers who fell in the war, ten sentences and two minutes in which he redefined the Civil War as a struggle not just for preserving the Union but as “a new birth of freedom”, also compare it with Pericles’ Funeral Speech if you like this sort of thing)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

[[ps - please check out some of my other quote collections here - The Guy Quote]]

The Ottoman empire’s life or death race (note to self: harems don’t equal happiness)

Below is extract edited from an excellent article in the Smithsonian magazine. I strongly recommend you read the whole thing.

The executioners of the Ottoman Empire were never noted for their mercy; just ask the teenage Sultan Osman II, who in May 1622 suffered an excruciating death by “compression of the testicles”–as contemporary chronicles put it–at the hands of an assassin known as Pehlivan the Oil Wrestler. There was reason for this ruthlessness, however; for much of its history (the most successful bit, in fact), the Ottoman dynasty flourished—ruling over modern Turkey, the Balkans and most of North Africa and the Middle East—thanks in part to the staggering violence it meted out to the highest and mightiest members of society.

Seen from this perspective, it might be argued that the Ottomans’ decline set in early in the 17th century, when they abandoned the “law of fratricide” drawn up by Mehmed II in the middle of the 15th century. Under the terms of this remarkable piece of legislation, whichever member of the ruling dynasty succeeded in seizing the throne on the death of the old sultan was enjoined to murder all his brothers (together with any inconvenient uncles and cousins) in order to reduce the risk of subsequent rebellion and civil war. Although it was not invariably applied, Mehmed’s law resulted in the deaths of at least 80 members of the House of Osman over a period of 150 years. These victims included all 19 siblings of Sultan Mehmed III—some of whom were still infants at the breast, but all of whom were strangled with silk handkerchiefs immediately after their brother’s accession in 1595.

For all its deficiencies, the law of fratricide ensured that the most ruthless of the available princes generally ascended to the throne. That was more than could be said of its replacement, the policy of locking up unwanted siblings in the kafes (“cage”), a suite of rooms deep within the Topkapi palace in Istanbul. Ottoman royals were kept imprisoned there until they were needed, sometimes several decades later, consoled in the meantime by barren concubines and permitted only a strictly limited range of recreations, the chief of which was macramé. This, the later history of the empire amply demonstrated, was not ideal preparation for the pressures of ruling one of the greatest states the world has ever known.

For many years, the Topkapi (above) palace itself paid mute testimony to the grand extent of Ottoman ruthlessness. Visitors had to pass through the Imperial Gate, on either side of which were two niches where the heads of recently executed criminals were always on display. Inside the gate stood the First Court, through which all visitors to the inner portions of the palace had to pass. This court was open to all the sultan’s subjects, and it seethed with an indescribable mass of humanity. Any Turk had the right to petition for redress of his grievances, and several hundred agitated citizens usually surrounded the kiosks at which harassed scribes took down their complaints. The focal point was a pair of “example stones” positioned directly outside the Central Gate, which led to the Second Court. These “stones” were actually marble pillars on which were placed the severed heads of notables who had somehow offended the sultan, stuffed with cotton if they had once been viziers or with straw if they had been lesser men. Reminders of the sporadic mass executions ordered by the sultan were occasionally piled up by the Central Gate as additional warnings: severed noses, ears and tongues.

Capital punishment was so common in the Ottoman Empire that there was a Fountain of Execution in the First Court, where the chief executioner and his assistant went to wash their hands after decapitating their victims — ritual strangulation being reserved for members of the royal family and their most senior officials. This fountain “was the most feared symbol of the arbitrary power of life and death of the sultans over their subjects, and was hated and feared accordingly,” the historian Barnette Miller wrote. It was used with particular frequency during the reign of Sultan Selim I—Selim the Grim (1512-20)—who, in a reign of eight short years, went through seven grand viziers (the Ottoman title for a chief minister) and ordered 30,000 lesser executions.

The job of executioner was held by the Sultan’s bostancı basha (left), or head gardener — the Ottoman corps of gardeners being a sort of 5,000-strong bodyguard that, aside from cultivating the Sultan’s paradise gardens, doubled up as customs inspectors and police officers. It was the royal gardeners who sewed condemned women into weighted sacks and dropped them into the Bosphorus—another Sultan, Ibrahim the Mad (1640-48), once had all 280 of the women in his harem executed this way simply so he could have the pleasure of selecting their successors—and the tread of an approaching group of bostancıs, wearing their traditional uniform of red skull caps, muslin breeches and shirts cut low to expose muscular chests and arms, heralded death by strangulation or decapitation for many thousands of Ottoman subjects down the years.

When very senior officials were sentenced to death, they would be dealt with by the bostancı basha in person, but — at least toward the end of the sultans’ rule — execution was not the inevitable result of a death sentence. Instead, the condemned man and the bostancı basha took part in what was surely one of the most peculiar customs known to history: a race held between the head gardener and his anticipated victim, the result of which was, quite literally, a matter of life or death for the trembling grand vizier or chief eunuch required to undertake it.

How this custom came about remains unknown. From the end of the eighteenth century, however, accounts of the bizarre race began to emerge from the seraglio, and these seem reasonably consistent in their details. Death sentences passed within the walls of the Topkapi were generally delivered to the head gardener at the Central Gate; Godfrey Goodwin describes the next part of the ritual thus:

It was the bostancibaşi‘s duty to summon any notable.… When the vezir or other unfortunate miscreant arrived, he well knew why he had been summoned, but he had to bite his lip through the courtesies of hospitality before, at long last, being handed a cup of sherbet. If it were white, he sighed with relief, but if it were red he was in despair, because red was the color of death.

For most of the bostancıs’ victims, the sentence was carried out immediately after the serving of the fatal sherbet by a group of five muscular young janissaries, members of the sultan’s elite infantry. For a grand vizier, however, there was still a chance: as soon as the death sentence was passed, the condemned man would be allowed to run as fast as he was able the 300 yards or so from the palace, through the gardens, and down to the Fish Market Gate on the southern side of the palace complex, overlooking the Bosphorus, which was the appointed place of execution.

If the deposed vizier reached the Fish Market Gate before the head gardener, his sentence was commuted to mere banishment. But if the condemned man found the bostanci basha waiting for him at the gate, he was summarily executed and his body hurled into the sea.

Ottoman records show that the strange custom of the fatal race lasted into the early years of the nineteenth century. The last man to save his neck by winning the life-or-death sprint was the Grand Vizier Hacı Salih Pasha, in November 1822. Hacı — whose predecessor had lasted a mere nine days in office before his own execution — not only survived his death sentence, but was so widely esteemed for winning his race that he went on to be appointed governor general of the province of Damascus.

(do read the whole article here)

The Guy Quote – Charles Dickens (anniversary edition)

Happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens (so much nicer to celebrate a birthday than a deathday). Dickens was nothing if not a prolific writer. Author of A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, the Pickwick Papers…even if you haven’t read much of his work, you will have heard of some of it. And while many artists struggle for recognition in their lifetimes, he was wildly successful while alive – since then his books have never been out of print.

Most of his work was published serially, in instalments – rather like a soap opera today. Rather than write them all up in one go, he’d write to the same pace as the publishing, giving his stories a real rhythm, complete with cliff hangers. He’d have been perfectly happy writing today, I reckon.

His early life sounds like something out of one of his books – indeed characters from it found their way in. He was the second of eight children. His father lived beyond his means and ended up in debtors prison with the rest of the family while young Charles, aged 12, was sent to a family friend. Then he was moved to the back attic of a court-insolvency clerk (a fat, good-natured old man).

To pay his way and help his family, he had to leave school and work 10 hours a day in a blacking warehouse, pasting labels on shoe polish. Unsurprisingly, this treatment etched itself on his memory. Not just in characters for his books (one of the other boys there was called Bob Fagin, which he used in Oliver Twist), but in his thoughts on labour conditions and the economy – and the unreasonable work-load that was foisted on the poor and dispossessed.

An unexpected inheritance got his family out of prison, but his mother didn’t take him straight out of the workhouse. Unsurprisingly, he never really forgave her. Eventually though young Charles worked his way to a job at a law firm, learnt short hand and then became a freelance reporter…the rest writes itself.

To give you an idea of his popularity – on a trip to America, a “Boz Ball” (his early nom de plume was Boz) was held in his honour, 3,000 people came. He called in on the President. When he got back, Angela Coutts, heir to the Coutts Bank fortune, approached him to help set up a house for fallen women in Shepherds Bush, Great Ormond Street asked him to help with funding…he was a great philanthropist.

He died in 1870 after a series of strokes. He had wanted to be buried at Rochester Cathedral “in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner,” but was instead interred in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. A printed epitaph that went around during the time of his funeral says: “To the Memory of Charles Dickens (England’s most popular author) who died at his residence, Higham, near Rochester, Kent, 9 June 1870, aged 58 years. He was a sympathiser with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world.”

Dickens’s last words, as reported in his obituary in The Times were:
“Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.”

Accidents will occur in the best regulated families.

I do not know the American gentleman, god forgive me for putting two such words together.

‘Tis love that makes the world go round, my baby.

Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.

Reflect on your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you’ve conquered human nature.

Train up a fig tree in the way it should go, and when you are old sit under the shade of it.

With affection beaming out of one eye, and calculation shining out of the other.

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known. (A Tale of Two Cities)

Any man may be in good spirits and good temper when he’s well dressed. There ain’t much credit in that.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. (A Tale of Two Cities)

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery. (David Copperfield)

We need never be ashamed of our tears.

A boy’s story is the best that is ever told.

Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress.

The first rule of business is: Do other men for they would do you.

A day wasted on others is not wasted on one’s self.

There is a wisdom of the head, and a wisdom of the heart.

This is a world of action, and not for moping and droning in.

There is nothing so strong or safe in an emergency of life as the simple truth.

A loving heart is the truest wisdom.

The men who learn endurance, are they who call the whole world, brother.

A person who can’t pay gets another person who can’t pay to guarantee that he can pay. Like a person with two wooden legs getting another person with two wooden legs to guarantee that he has got two natural legs. It don’t make either of them able to do a walking-match.

The civility which money will purchase, is rarely extended to those who have none.

May not the complaint, that common people are above their station, often take its rise in the fact of uncommon people being below theirs?

Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a Swiss farm, and live entirely surrounded by cows – and china.

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.
Charles Dickens

Oh the nerves, the nerves; the mysteries of this machine called man! Oh the little that unhinges it, poor creatures that we are!

Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, are all very good words for the lips.

It opens the lungs, washes the countenance, exercises the eyes, and softens down the temper; so cry away.

The pain of parting is nothing to the joy of meeting again.

It’s my old girl that advises. She has the head. But I never own to it before her. Discipline must be maintained.

There are only two styles of portrait painting; the serious and the smirk.

Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

We forge the chains we wear in life.

Regrets are the natural property of grey hairs.

Renunciation remains sorrow, though a sorrow borne willingly.

Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you’ve conquered human nature.

In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice.

That sort of half sigh, which, accompanied by two or three slight nods of the head, is pity’s small change in general society.

The age of chivalry is past. Bores have succeeded to dragons.

Send forth the child and childish man together, and blush for the pride that libels our own old happy state, and gives its title to an ugly and distorted image.

The one great principle of English law is to make business for itself.

There are strings in the human heart that had better not be vibrated.

To conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.

Vices are sometimes only virtues carried to excess!

We are so very ‘umble.

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.

I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free.

Whatever I have tried to do in life, I have tried with all my heart to do it well; whatever I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself completely; in great aims and in small I have always thoroughly been in earnest.

Fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.

Great men are seldom over-scrupulous in the arrangement of their attire.

Have a heart that never hardens, and a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts.

When a man bleeds inwardly, it is a dangerous thing for himself; but when he laughs inwardly, it bodes no good to other people.

I have known a vast quantity of nonsense talked about bad men not looking you in the face. Don’t trust that conventional idea. Dishonesty will stare honesty out of countenance any day in the week, if there is anything to be got by it.

You don’t carry in your countenance a letter of recommendation.

It is a pleasant thing to reflect upon, and furnishes a complete answer to those who contend for the gradual degeneration of the human species, that every baby born into the world is a finer one than the last.

The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this: that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.

There are dark shadows on the earth, but its lights are stronger in the contrast.

Although a skillful flatterer is a most delightful companion if you have him all to yourself, his taste becomes very doubtful when he takes to complimenting other people.

An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.

Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine.

Bring in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew.

Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.

Credit is a system whereby a person who can not pay gets another person who can not pay to guarantee that he can pay.

Do you spell it with a “V” or a “W”?’ inquired the judge. ‘That depends upon the taste and fancy of the speller, my Lord’.

He had but one eye and the pocket of prejudice runs in favor of two.

Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.

I never could have done what I have done without the habits of punctuality, order, and diligence, without the determination to concentrate myself on one subject at a time.

If there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.

Most men are individuals no longer so far as their business, its activities, or its moralities are concerned. They are not units but fractions.

It is a melancholy truth that even great men have their poor relations.

Let us be moral. Let us contemplate existence.

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.

Life is made of ever so many partings welded together.

Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true.

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If you enjoy The Guy Quote, find more in the series by clicking here or on the tag to the right.

Penny for the Guy…

Cast your mind back. Back. Little bit further. Good. Elizabethan England. Henry VIII and his split from the church in Rome wasn’t all that long ago. Catholics v Protestants in fanatical ideological struggles (you would be passionate too if your immortal soul was on the line), and the Catholics had definitely got the shitty end of the stick. They had been fiercely persecuted under Elizabeth I, though not without provocation, as a series of plots and attacks – among them the war with Spain – sought to oust her and bring Catholicism back to Britain. The declaration that Catholic Mass was illegal though, predates the Spanish Armada.

When she died in 1603, English Catholics hoped that her successor, James I, would be more forgiving. His mum, after all, was Catholic. They were wrong though (it’s more complicated than that, obviously, but read this to find out more), and a group of 13 men came together under the leadership of Robert Catesby to do something about it. Their plan? Blow up the House of Lords. They’d get James I, a whole bunch of MPs who hated them, maybe even the Prince of Wales too for good measure.

Does this ring any bells? It should. Religion polarising people to such an extent that a fanatical, disaffected group comes together to make a stand – violence their final recourse. It could be modern-day London, Washington, you name it. Then they were conspirators, today they’d be terrorists. But it’s hard not to have some sympathy for their cause.

The conspirators got hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder, enough to pulverise the House of Lords, and stored them in a cellar just under the building. Guy Fawkes, who had 10 years of military experience fighting in the Spanish Netherlands in suppression of the Dutch Revolt, was given charge of the explosives. But as the group worked on the plot, it became clear that innocent people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who even fought for more rights for Catholics. Some of the plotters started having second thoughts. One of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th (though this may have been a fake).

The warning letter reached the King, and the King’s forces made plans to stop the conspirators. At midnight on 4 November, 1605, they stormed the cellars and caught Fawkes. Most of the conspirators fled London, trying to enlist support along the way. Several made a stand against the pursuing Sheriff of Worcester and his men at Holbeche House; in the ensuing battle Catesby was one of those shot and killed. At their trial on 27 January 1606, eight of the survivors, including Fawkes, were convicted and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

The Gunpowder Plot struck a very profound chord for the people of England. In fact, even today, the reigning monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called “the State Opening of Parliament”. Prior to the Opening, and according to custom, the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster. Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition. On the very night that the plot was foiled, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. The thwarting of the event was for years commemorated with church services, bell ringing and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire – hence today’s Guy Fawkes Night.

Are we partying in support of Fawkes’ execution or honoring his attempt to do away with the government? Perhaps it doesn’t really matter any more – politics have always been best sanitised by masquerading as a celebration.

In Lewes, fireworks night is a bit darker than at other paces. Bonfire societies parade down the streets in costumes, lighting fireworks, burning crosses and effigies as they go, all under the “no popery” standard. The event’s roots commemorate the burning of 17 Protestant martyrs by Catholics in the 16th century. Now, as well as the Pope and Guy Fawkes, you’ll see tableux and effigies of modern day baddies being burnt – George Bush, Saddam, even John Prescott. It’s an annual day of misrule, the costumes were originally to stop participants being recognised. Of course, while it’s not exactly politically correct, it’s hugely popular. If it does get shut down, it’ll probably because so many people go that Lewes can’t cope, not because we don’t want to see Iranian presidents being chucked on bonfires.

Now watch this, it’s worth it:

The Guy Quote – W.E.B. DuBois

“I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not.
Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas, where smiling men and welcoming women glide in gilded halls.
From out the caves of evening that swing between the strong-limbed earth and the tracery of the stars, I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension.
So, wed with Truth, I dwell above the Veil.
Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America?
Is this the life you long to change into the dull red hideousness of Georgia?
Are you so afraid lest peering from this high Pisgah, between Philistine and Amalekite, we sight the Promised Land?”
W.E.B. Dubois, The Soul of Black Folk (1903)

I came across the above while reading the comments to THIS fantastic article in prospect. Dr W.E.B. DuBois was a contemporary of my great-great-grandmother (Mattie Lawrence, one of the first Fisk Jubilee Singers) and, as well as graduating from both Fisk and Harvard, wrote some incredible, prophetic treatises on civil rights for black Americans, was an activist, sociologist, journalist and much more. The Wikipedia piece on him goes into loads of detail and is well worth reading.

He had a mammoth falling-out with Marcus Garvey. As far as I can make out, the ideological disagreement was over DuBois believing that African Americans could live equally with white people. DuBois said blacks have a “Double-Conscious” mind in which they have to know when to act “white” and when to act “black”. Garvey took issue with the idea that anyone should have to assimilate or “fit-in” in the first place.

It wasn’t that gentlemanly a disagreement. DuBois, fearing Garvey would undermine is efforts towards black rights, said: “Marcus Garvey is, without doubt, the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America and in the world. He is either a lunatic or a traitor.”
Garvey suspected DuBois was prejudiced against him because he was a Caribbean native with darker skin. DuBois once described Marcus Garvey as “a little, fat black man; ugly, but with intelligent eyes and a big head.” Garvey, in return, called DuBois “purely and simply a white man’s nigger” and “a little Dutch, a little French, a little Negro … a mulatto … a monstrosity.”

Unsurprisingly, they didn’t talk much afterwards.

It’s astonishing, writing this in London, watching people of all races walking around in the street outside – and making up the small team I work and play with here – that the fathers of civil rights, lionised by poets and politicians alike, should talk about one another that way. Astonishing and a little sad. Perhaps it was just symptomatic of the times, and their language is out of context in my modern, politically-corrected lexicon. Most conversations I have about civil rights and race are exactly that – conversations. I wouldn’t be able to do that had it not been for the likes of Garvey and DuBois. Given the scale of the fight for equality before them, and the – to my mind at least – utterly unimaginable unfairness of daily life and the basic rights they were fighting for, the fire and passion, the sardonic anger of that first quote, are more than understandable.

And, as promised, some words from W.E.B. DuBois (1868 – 1963):

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.

To stimulate wildly weak and untrained minds is to play with mighty fires.

When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books You will be reading meanings.

If there is anybody in this land who thoroughly believes that the meek shall inherit the earth they have not often let their presence be known.

The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.

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RIP