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Friday, September 30, 2005

It's a bouncing baby boy

For my new nephew Zachary George -------- born this morning in London.

Careers in history

Careers in history are hard to come by. Anyone who wants to work in museums, auction houses, schools or universities faces very tough competition. Why? I suppose because everyone loves history. I did a PhD in history and when I realised that very few PhDs ever have academic careers I was absolutely devastated. I have since discovered that many students who train to be lawyers and teachers also fail to find jobs in their chosen areas. It's a tough world out there.

When you're trying to enter a profession with such a low success rate it takes a lot of courage to imagine that you will be one of the people who get through. It's far easier to believe that you will fail. In reality it's not what you do as a student, it's how you behave when you're qualified. If you want to work in a competitive area like museums or universities it's best to take it for granted that it will probably take you a long time to get the job you want. You should also bear in mind that it may never happen. However, don't let that put you off once you have started down that path. You must remember that it's a common problem in careers as diverse as journalism and medicine. Basically if you leave off following history after having trained as a teacher or academic or museum curator, you will still face the same problems in many second choice careers.

Everyone reaches a point where they have to stop following the dream. You can't wait for that job forever because you need to pay the mortgage and support your family. Don't feel too hard done by even if you've given it your best shot. Very few people have their dream job. When that day comes just think that historians are luckier than most. We do not need to be paid for what we do.

Finale- American history week- Mary Fisher c.1623-98

Mary Fisher became a Quaker whilst working as a servant in Selby. In 1652 she was imprisoned in York castle for sixteen months after going up to a minister at the end of a church service and shouting:
Come downe, come downe, thou painted beast, come downe. Thou art but a hireling, and deluder of the people with thy lyes
After her release she went on a missionary tour of East Anglia and the south of England with Elizabeth Williams, an older unmarried woman. The pair were stoned by scholars after Fisher called them 'unclean birds' when preaching in front of Sidney Sussex college in Cambridge. The mayor ordered that they be stripped to the waist and whipped at the market cross. It was noted that they were treated with particular harshness. Following this experience Fisher was imprisoned twice in York castle for reprimanding a Pontefract priest and refusing to give securities for good behaviour.

Fisher's story became part of American history when in 1655 she went to the West Indies and New England with married mother of five, Ann Austin. In 1656 they arrived in Boston where the deputy governor and council confiscated more than a hundred books and ordered them to be burnt by the common hangman. Austin and Fisher were imprisoned and stripped naked to be searched for marks that would show they were witches. (Have you spotted the motif yet?) After five weeks they were banished to the West Indies and then returned to England.

In 1657 Fisher set off for the Mediterranean with a group of other Quakers. They visited the Ionian island of Zante before Fisher and three others reached the Ottoman coastal city of Smyrna. They were forced out of Turkey in 1659 after the English representative there thought that their activities were bringing England into disrepute. Fisher, then accompanied by a woman called Beatrice Beckley, went to visit the Sultan in Adrianople. He listened to their views and received them with kindness. She finally returned to England in 1659 and in 1662 married the prominent Dorset Quaker William Bayly. In that same year she was arrested and roughly treated in London despite being pregnant.

Bayly lost his life at sea in 1675 and in 1678 Fisher married John Cross, a London Quaker. They emigrated to America where Cross died in 1687. Fisher herself passed away in Charlestown, South Carolina in 1698. She left a rich Quaker legacy in the form of her grandaughter Sophia Hume, who became a prominent minister and writer. (source: DNB article by Stefano Villani)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

American History week- the finale

Tomorrow will be the final day of my self-imposed American history week. Whew! I know so little about the subject that it hasn't been easy finding things to write about. I enjoyed reading about Anne Bailey, the Harlem Renaissance and the histories of Louisiana and Texas. Have you got any suggestions for aspects of American history I can write about tomorrow? I'm particularly interested in women, ethnic minorities and cross-cultural exchange.

American History week- Texas

Some like to claim that America has no history, but you only have to look at the state of Texas to see that isn't true. Over the last thousand years the land has been under the control of several different peoples. Before the arrival of European settlers Texas was inhabited by Native Americans, including the internationally famous Apache, Cherokee and Comanche. Reading Wikipedia I see that there are now three federally recognised Native American tribes living in Texas: the Alabama-Coushatta, the Kickapoo and the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo. (I don't know what federal recognition means so if anyone can tell me I'd be grateful.) The history of these tribes is fascinating in itself. The Kickapoo originally came from the great lakes area in the north but moved south in stages because of conflict with other tribes and contact with settlers. You can read more about them here. The Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo on the other hand originally came from New Mexico. In this account of the Alabama-Coushatta I see that Native Americans played a role in the civil war.
The Polk County Indians played only a minor role in the Civil War. John
Scott, later chief of the Alabama-Coushattas, and nineteen members of his
tribe were sworn into Confederate service on April 11, 1862. After serving
briefly in Company G, Twenty-fourth Texas Cavalry, at Arkansas Post, they
returned home and were organized by Capt. William H. Beazley into a cavalry
company unattached to any regiment. In December 1864 this company listed 132
men on its roster and was part of the Sixth Brigade, Second Texas Infantry. The
primary job of this new organization was to construct and operate flat-bottom boats for transporting farm produce to the Confederate forces along the Gulf Coast.
From 1690 to 1821 Texas was a Spanish colony and then from 1821 to 1835 a part of Mexico. Texas was an independent republic until it joined the United States in 1845.

American folklore- tall tales

I don't know if you've seen the episode of The Simpsons where the family hitch a ride in the cargo waggon of a train. They share their journey with an old tramp who agrees to tell them tall tales in return for regular sponge baths from Homer. I had never heard the expression tall tales before and I wonder if it's only found in America. This site explains that in America the stories are called tall tales because:
A tall tale is a special kind of hero story because the heroes of tall
tales are "larger than life". They are bigger or stronger than real people. They
solve problems in ways that are hard to believe.
I certainly can't suspend my disbelief when I hear about a large lumberjack called Paul Bunyan who went about creating the landscape with a giant blue ox called Babe. Some tall tales are based on historical characters. The Simpsons episode featured the tree planter Johnny Appleseed. You can read all about him here. Americans might find this hard to believe, but in Britain I don't think many people have even heard of Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed.

American History week- What was the Louisiana purchase?

Nearly half of the United States was bought from France in 1803 for $3 per square mile. This large chunk of land ran right down the middle of the country, previously separating the east and west coasts. You can see just how much territory was bought in the Louisana purchase when you look at this map. In France Napoleon was keen to sell the land because it would make America a stronger force against the British. The money also gave him more power to make war in Europe.

The presence of the French colony is still felt in many ways. About 5% of the people in the state of Louisiana speak French and many place names are also French. Just think of New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Citizens with a French heritage are known as Creoles and Cajuns. The ancestors of the Creoles typically came from France and the French colonies in the West Indies. The Cajuns are descended from the Acadians, French speakers who were expelled from Canada in the mid eighteenth century.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

American History week- The Harlem Renaissance

It's quite awful to think that when my granny was born there were still people in America who could remember slavery. Back then British women didn't have the vote either. You'd think with all those changes that my grandmother would be looking rather staggered, but no. She takes it all in her stride.

When granny was approaching her teenage years America was witnessing the Harlem Renaissance. I wonder if in 1920s Hertfordshire she knew that African-American culture was experiencing a great creative flourishing of literature and the visual arts. If she could see well enough to read a computer screen I'd show her this website with all its links to writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance.

Men dominated as always but a significant number of female writers are now well known. This website is devoted to Zora Neale Hurston. I think granny would agree with this statement of Zora's:
"Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to 'jump at de sun.' We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground."
A limited number of biographies of Harlem Renaissance women are available here. Hallie Quinn Brown strikes me as particularly interesting, and not just because she had tea with Queen Victoria.

American history week- Evolution

In Pennsylvania this week parents have gone to court to argue against the teaching of Intelligent Design in their local schools. (BBC) This theory suggests that because living beings are so complex they must have been designed by a creator. The parents say that it should not be taught alongside Darwinian evolution because it is more religion than science. Evolution (BBC)was first* widely proposed in the nineteenth-century by Charles Darwin. His best known publication on the matter is On the origin of the species, which can be read on Project Gutenberg and on the BBC website linked above. Darwin found that species gradually change over time in response to developments in their natural environment. The plants and animals that are best suited to particular habitats survive to pass on their genes whilst those that are not die out. Over thousands and millions of years these changes create new species. For example we share a lot of genetic material with chimpanzees, as well as common ancestors.

I think Darwinian evolution is accepted as fact by the majority of Britons but it is still controversial in many parts of America. Certain types of Christianity have such a strong presence in the states that a significant part of the population prefers to believe the Biblical explanation for the origins of the world. (i.e. God created the world in seven days.) Evolution has been the subject of American court cases before. This week's case reminds many in America of the Monkey trial of 1925 when John Scopes, a biology teacher, was charged with illegally teaching the theory of evolution. You can read a detailed account of it here.

* Darwin was not the only person to come up with ideas about evolution. The early 18th-century botanist Linneaus came close and George Louis Leclerc discussed the idea in a 1774 publication. You can read more about them and other pre-Darwinian evolutionists here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

History on Radio 4

I enjoyed the first episode of Radio 4's new series about the British Empire. You can listen to it here. You might also like this dramatisation of The Professor by nineteenth-century novelist Charlotte Brontë. Each episode will be available online for seven days after broadcasting.

American history week- Mad Anne Bailey

It may surprise American readers that we Britons know a lot about your films and tv shows but very little about your history. I would like to learn more so from now until Friday all posts on this blog will be about American history. I'm using internet sources so if I make any mistakes please tell me.

Anne Bailey was born as Anne Hennis in Liverpool* in 1742 and emigrated to Virginia in 1761. It is likely that she went as an indentured servant. After her first husband Richard Trotter was killed at the battle of Point Pleasant* in 1774 she started dressing like a man and took up arms against the Native Americans. In 1788 she married her second husband John Bailey and lived in West Virginia. During a siege by Native Americans in 1791 the settlers ran out of gun powder. Anne Bailey saved them by riding a hundred miles for help and returning with powder on the third day. source

She was called Mad Anne because she did not behave in the way that women were expected to. The author of this 1856 United States Magazine article virtually deprives Anne of the right of being called a woman at all. I think this says a lot about nineteenth-century attitudes to women:

Imagine a short, thick-set, coarse and masculine figure, with a face bronzed by
exposure, and marked with the unmistakable outlines of care and passion, and you
will have a fair portaiture of Anna Bailey, or "Mad Ann, the Huntress," as she
was commonly called, for our traveler was a woman. A woman in nothing save sex,
however, for every instinct and feelng was masculine. She hunted, rode and
fought like a man, and, man like, she delighted in all the excitement and
adventure of border life.

In 1826 Anne Royall recorded her impressions after meeting Anne Bailey. Her opening comment 'This female is a Welch woman, and is now very old' suggests that Anne may have been from one of the many Welsh families that have settled in Liverpool, and therefore not English at all. She also implies that locals thought Anne Bailey had an unusual accent. Instead of 'an owl on an elm upon the bank of Elk river' she would say 'the howl upon the helm on the bank of the helk.' Anne Bailey would have spent most of her life in America by this point so there is no telling where she picked it up.

*Read this article for debate about whether or not this was the first battle of the American revolution.
** This poem by a twentieth-century poet wrongly describes her as a Londoner.

Child soldiers

The Observer reports that Hurricane Katrina may have released armed dolphins into the Gulf of Mexico. Dolphins have been trained to go on attack and kill missions since the Cold War and have even been used to detect underwater mines in Iraq. Understandably this is not popular with animal rights groups and I have to agree with them. Dolphins are as clever as we are but they can not make a consenting choice about their participation in war. It makes me think of the recruitment of child soldiers. Amnesty International's website about it is here.

Children have been involved in warfare throughout history. For many centuries soldiers were followed from battle to battle by their wives, sons and daughters. Children also worked directly alongside the soldiers as drummer boys and equipment carriers. During the American Civil war popular songs called ballads were written about the battles. Shiloh was remembered with a ballad about a drummer boy who died on the battlefield.

On Shiloh's dark and blood ground, the dead and wounded lay.

Amongst them was a drummer boy, that beat the drum that day.

A wounded soldier raised him up, His drum was by his side.

He clasped his hands and raised his eyes and prayed before he died:

Look down upon the battle field, Oh Thou, our Heav'nly friend,

Have mercy on our sinful souls. The soldiers cried, "Amen."

For gather'd round a little group, Each brave man knelt and cried.

They listen'd to the drummer boy who prayed before he died.

"Oh Mother!" said the dying boy, "Look down from Heav'n on me.

"Receive me to thy fond embrace, Oh take me home to thee.

I've loved my country as my God, To serve them both I've tried."

He smiled, shook hands. Death seized the boy who prayed before he died.

Each soldier wept then like a child, Stout hearts were they and brave.

They wrote upon a simple board these words "This is a guide

To those who mourn the drummer boy who prayed before he died."

This sad ballad is about a young British drummer boy who died at the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

In 1944 children played an important role in the Warsaw uprising. The capital of Poland had been occupied by the Germans since the beginning of the second world war in 1939. On 1st August 1944 the inhabitants of Warsaw rose against the Germans in an attempt to reclaim their city. The uprising lasted for two months until the Poles were forced to surrender on 2nd October. At least 150, 000 civilians were killed. This site explains how Polish boy and girl scouts organised a postal service around the city so that people could communicate with each other.

Monday, September 26, 2005

A question for my readers- please delurk

It's been very nice watching the number of readers grow in the last week. This is all thanks to Nate, Brandon, Natalie and Sharon for mentioning me on their blogs.

I have a question for you. If you decided to be a school teacher which age group would you teach and why?

Sir Kenelm Digby- love, science and wounded dogs

It was whilst listening to the second episode of Radio 4's History of Folly that I heard about the beliefs of Sir Kenelm Digby. Born in Buckinghamshire on 11th July 1603 he was the oldest son of Sir Everard Digby, who was executed for his involvement in the Gunpowder plot of 1605. His childhood playmate was also his future wife, the celebrated beauty Lady Venetia Digby. In 1619 his mother sent him on a Grand Tour of Europe in the hope of keeping him away from Venetia. He had fallen in love with her and although she was of noble birth her lack of money meant that she was considered to be an unsuitable match.

According to his memoirs Digby had all kinds of adventures on the continent. In France he attended a party where he caught the eye of the middle-aged queen mother Marie de' Medici. The next day a messenger escorted him to the queen's home where she tried to seduce him. After making his politest excuses Digby escaped and had it spread about that he was dead. He then went to Florence in Italy where he stayed for two years. In 1623 he went to Spain where he helped in the attempts to negotiate a marriage between the future Charles I and the daughter of the King of Spain. (This marriage never happened and Charles I married a French princess.)

In London Venetia thought that Digby was dead and threw herself into a life of wild parties. She became the lover of several men and had at least one illegitimate child. What she did not know was that Digby's letters to her had been suppressed by his mother. When she finally found out that he was alive she thought the lack of letters meant he did not love her anymore. However after Digby returned to England in 1624 they married in secret, probably in January 1625. They had a very happy marriage, although like many of his aristocratic contemporaries he had several affairs. During the years of his marriage Digby continued to travel, sailing extensively in the Mediterranean in the service of Charles I. All that changed on 1st May 1633 when she was found dead in her bed from a cerebral haemorrhage. Digby was grief stricken and never remarried.

Digby retreated into scholarship and began to conduct scientific experiments. Perhaps motivated by grief he researched ways to revive the dead and became convinced that he had succeeded with stinging nettles and crayfish. You can hear more about that in the radio programme I've linked to above. In 1635 he went to live in Paris where he continued to experiment and converted to Roman Catholicism. At that time England was officially a Protestant country and Catholics were often suspected as enemies of the state. For the rest of his life he petitioned for toleration for Roman Catholics in England.* A brief summary of the final years of his life can be found here.

The radio programme also mentions Digby's belief in the powder of sympathy. Nobody had yet calculated how to measure the earth's longitude. This meant that sailors often got lost and thousands died in shipwrecks. If they could accurately keep track of the time in their home port this would enable them to use the sun's position to work out where they were. Digby brought the following solution back from France:
To apply the Powder to the longitude problem, a wounded dog was to be put
aboard a departing ship, and a trusted individual was left ashore to dip a bit
of the dog's discarded bandage into Sympathy solution every day at a prearranged
hour. The dog could be counted upon to yelp in pain at that instant, thereby
announcing the crucial home-port time to the crew. source
The powder of sympathy was also used on sword wounds. It was thought that if it was sprinkled on the sword sympathetic rays would then beam to the wound and heal it. (You can hear a better explanation on that radio programme.)

*Information for this post condensed from Michael Foster's entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Thomas Chatterton- boy poet and forger

Systers in sorrowe, on thys daise-ey'd banke,
Where melancholych broods, we wyll lamente;
Be wette wythe mornynge dewe and evene danke;
Lyche levynde okes in eche the odher bente,
Or lyche forlettenn halles of merriemente,
Whose gastlie mitches holde the traine of fryghte,
Where lethale ravens bark, and owlets wake the nyghte.

Thomas Chatterton was the third child of a Bristol writing master and a seamstress. He never knew his father Thomas Chatterton senior because he died three months before his birth in November 1752. Despite their never meeting the father's actions would have a dramatic impact on the life of the son. Thomas Chatterton senior was a keen antiquarian who collected Roman coins, researched his family tree and wanted to write a history of Bristol. He rescued medieval documents from the church of St Mary Redcliffe as well as receiving a quantity of waste paper from the church to cover his pupils' copy-books (exercise books).

At first Thomas Chatterton junior was not an impressive student and he was dismissed from his father's school for being incapable of learning. Maurice Evan Hare writes:

Thomas, then, was a moody baby, a dull small boy who knew few of his letters at four; and was superannuated--such was his impenetrability to learning--at the age of five from the school of which his father had been master. He was moreover
till the age of six and a half so frequently subject to long fits of abstraction
and of apparently causeless crying that his mother and grandmother feared for
his reason and thought him 'an absolute fool.'

His mother and sister had to teach him to read from a black letter* bible and an old music book that had belonged to his father. He loved the illuminated capitals and became an avid reader. As he grew up he was increasingly fascinated by the medieval period. Maurice Evan Hare writes:

At the age of eight we hear of him reading 'all day or as long as they would let him,'
confident that he was going to be famous, and promising his mother and sister 'a great deal of finery' for their care of him when the day of his fame arrived.
Using the ancient paper saved by his father Thomas began composing the works of an invented fifteenth-century monk Thomas Rowley. His Rowley wrote poetry, plays, letters, architectural and antiquarian reports and the biography of a fifteenth-century counterpart. His forgeries extended beyond Rowley and the first to reach print was the thirteenth-century account of the opening of a new bridge in Bristol. This appeared in a newspaper called Felix Farley's Bristol Journal in 1768. Local antiquarians became interested in Thomas who was able to provide them with large quantities of 'original' literature about medieval Bristol. They were suspicious but for some reason the young forger was not exposed and even received assistance from a number of individuals.

In 1769 Thomas attempted to gain the patronage of Horace Walpole. Walpole was the youngest son of prime minister Robert Walpole and a famous writer and antiquarian. This was a mistake because Walpole and his friends denounced Thomas' work as forgeries. Chatterton was furious but went into poetic overdrive. Within a year of the Walpole incident he had published thirty-one different pieces of poetry and prose under a variety of pen names and was quickly acquiring a reputation for genius. In April 1770 he left for London to follow a career as a writer and journalist.

We must remember that he was still only a teenager when he arrived in London. He seems to have done very well. He impressed his contemporaries with his charisma and manliness and his literary output was still prodigious. He was known to associate frequently with prostitutes and in June or July he moved into the garret room of a brothel. (I thought you'd like that detail R.) Maurice Evan Hare writes:
He lodged at first with an aunt, Mrs. Ballance, in Shoreditch, where he refused to allow his room to be swept, as he said 'poets hated brooms.' He objected to being called Tommy, and asked his aunt 'If she had ever heard of a poet's being called Tommy' (you see he was still a boy). 'But she assured him that she knew nothing about poets and only wished he would not set up for being a gentleman.' '
Mrs Ballance's desire that Thomas should 'not set up for being a gentleman' reflects the greater rigidity of the eighteenth-century social structure. She perhaps feared that something terrible would happen to her nephew if he went above his station.

It is likely that at some point he caught a venereal disease. He died of an overdose of arsenic and opium on 24th August 1770 and was given a pauper's burial in Shoe Lane. The corpses were removed when the land was redeveloped so his final resting place is unknown. Everybody thought that he had killed himself but Nick Groom (the author of the DNB article I've based much of this post on) believes that it was the unwise mixing of recreational and medicinal drugs. Groom reasons that he was enjoying literary success and appeared to be in high spirits in his letters which suggests that suicide was unlikely. Maurice Evans Hare writes of the letters:
His letters to his mother and sister were always gay and contained glowing
accounts of his progress; but in reality he must have been miserably poor and

This site also presents the other viewpoint:
He became severely depressed and experienced other health and financial
problems which he could not overcome. In August 1770, Chatterton committed
suicide by swallowing poison and was dead by the age of seventeen.

Horace Walpole was popularly blamed for Chatterton's death because he had not recognised his genius and offered him patronage. Chatterton's memory came to represent the stereotypical Romantic myth of the doomed and impoverished young poetic genius who dies impoverished in his garret. Many of the great writers of the nineteenth century studied him although at the same time he was largely dismissed as a forger.

The Rowley poems with an introduction by Maurice Evan Hare can be found here.

*We would describe black letter font as Gothic lettering. You can see examples of it here. It was the earliest form of printed type. I don't know when it fell out of use but it was still appearing in cheap publications aimed at less educated people in the later seventeenth century.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Hurricane Rita

If you know anyone in Texas I hope they're ok.

Casanova the Christian II

Brandon has answered my questions about Casanova's religious attitudes.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Sceptred Isle: Empire

For six weeks from Monday 26th September Radio 4 will be broadcasting thirty episodes of This Sceptred Isle: Empire, a narrative history of the British Empire. The series begins with an overview of empire, followed on 27th September with England's colonisation of Ireland. Thirteen episodes are devoted to different aspects of the 16th century, nine to the 17th century and six to the 18th century. A full episode guide can be found on the website which also has pictures, an interactive timeline, further information and the chance for listeners to send in their own stories of empire. Each episode can be accessed online for five days after its broadcast.

He schal be rostyd in his scalys

Most of the American fruits are exceedingly odoriferous,and therefore are
very disgusting at first to us Europeans: on the contrary, our fruits appear
insipid to them, for want of odour.

I found this comment in the introduction to The Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery Compiled, about A.D. 1390. The book itself is a piece of history because it was compiled by Samuel Pegge in 1780. I would very much like to know which fruits he was talking about.

Pegge's introduction is also interesting for other reasons. Before he explains the history of the 14th-century recipes that the book is about, he describes cooking habits from the ancient Greeks to the Normans. Like today's historians he includes notes so that we can see where he got his information from. I don't recognise the sources that Pegge uses in the following passage on the ancient Britons. Strabo [12] may be the Greek historian. Note 11 is referenced as 'Cæsar de B. G.'

The Aborigines of Britain, to come nearer home, could have no great expertness
in Cookery, as they had no oil, and we hear nothing of their butter, they used
only sheep and oxen, eating neither hares, though so greatly esteemed at Rome,
nor hens, nor geese, from anotion of superstition. Nor did they eat fish. There
was little corn in the interior part of the island, but they lived on milk and
flesh [11]; though it is expressly asserted by Strabo that they had no cheese

To modern readers it seems a little odd that Pegge begins his introduction with this brief run through of historical cooking habits. I have seen this kind of historical summary in several other history books from the 17th and 18th century so perhaps it was just the thing to do in those days.

The recipes at the heart of the book are written in an old form of the English language known to us as Middle English. Yet I think any cook could follow them today. The first recipe tells us how to make ground beans, which Pegge notes was a dish for poorer households (rather like baked beans for students). I think the strange letter represents a 'th' sound.

FOR TO MAKE GRONDEN BENES. I.Take benes and dry hem in a nost [kiln] or in
an Ovene and hulle hem wele and wyndewe [winnow] out þe hulk and wayshe hem clene an do hem to seeþ in gode broth an ete hem with Bacon.

I particularly like the injunction to eat them with bacon (ete hem with Bacon). It's still common in Britain today for people to say em instead of them. We usually think it's linguistic laziness but I heard somewhere recently that it's related to the time when the word didn't have a th sound. I'm sure there's a more detailed explanation and I'd like to hear it if anyone knows.

We often imagine in Britain that our cooking was bland and insipid until the introduction of mediterranean food during the 1980s and 1990s. (I think really it was just a post-war blip and traditional British cooking is very good) Among the recipes is proof that we knew how to make a good salad even in the 14th century.

SALAT Take persel, sawge, garlec, chibolles, oynouns, leek, borage, myntes, porrectes, fenel and ton tressis, rew, rosemarye, purslarye, laue and waische hem clene, pike hem, pluk hem small wiþ þyn honde and myng hem wel with rawe oile. lay on vynegur and salt, and serue it forth.

I don't understand all the ingredients. I suspect 'sawge' is sage, 'garlec' is garlic, 'chibolles' might be a kind of onion and 'oynouns, leek, borage, myntes' are obvious. The raw oil, vinegar and salt are definitely a salad dressing. I'll leave you with a lobster recipe. I think a lot more people would be vegetarians if we started calling the animals we eat 'he' and 'she' instead of 'it'.


He schal be rostyd in his scalys in a ovyn other by the Feer under a
panne and etyn wyth Veneger.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Natalie Bennett presents two lovely extracts from 1930s writer H.V.Morton.

Mr. Spectator

The Spectator was first published in London on 1st March 1711. It appeared six times a week and by mid-March had a daily circulation of three thousand. It ran until issue no. 555 on 6th December 1712. (DNB) It was written by Richard Steele and Joseph Addison using the voice of Mr. Spectator, an imaginary narrator. In the first issue, transcribed here, Mr. Spectator said that he started the journal because he seldom spoke and he hoped:
to print myself out, if possible, before I die. I have been often told by
my friends, that it is pity so many useful discoveries which I have made should
be in the possession of a silent man. For this reason, therefore, I shall
publish a sheet-full of thoughts every morning, for the benefit of my
contemporaries; and if I can any way contribute to the diversion or improvement
of the country in which I live, I shall leave it, when I am summoned out of it,
with the secret satisfaction of thinking that I have not lived in vain.
I'm sure many bloggers have the same thought.

Casanova the Christian

It's long been an ambition of mine to read Giacomo Casanova's autobiography. I bought a paper copy several years ago but I never got round to reading it because it was in Italian. At the time I thought I was buying the original text because he was Italian, but I have since found out that it was first written in French. The recent BBC dramatisation of Casanova's life only intensified my interest and I was pleased to find an English translation on Project Gutenberg. I think most people who are old enough to be interested in such matters (and a fair few who are not) know that Casanova is famous for his enormous sexual appetite. You will understand then that my desire to read his autobiography is not entirely motivated by historical interest.

Casanova wrote about his life when he was an old man looking back on his youth. He says:

dear reader, I trust that, far from attaching to my history the character of impudent boasting, you will find in my Memoirs only the characteristic proper to a general confession, and that my narratory style will be the manner neither of a repenting sinner, nor of a man ashamed to acknowledge his frolics. They are the follies inherent to youth; I make sport of them, and, if you are kind, you will not yourself refuse them a good-natured smile.

Before he died in 1798 he gave the manuscript to his sister's son-in-law and it was eventually published in the 1820s. It was not until 1960 that we had access to the complete text and you can find out why here.

I'm not used to e-books so I can only read short sections at a time. This morning I read the preface in which Casanova explains his beliefs and his intentions as a writer. The most surprising thing I found was that despite his reputation he had a strong Christian faith. The preface is peppered with references to God. Almost at the very beginning Casanova writes:

I believe in the existence of an immaterial God, the Author and Master
of all beings and all things, and I feel that I never had any doubt of His existence, from the fact that I have always relied upon His providence, prayed to Him in my distress, and that He has always granted my prayers. Despair brings death, but prayer does away with despair; and when a man has prayed he feels himself supported by new confidence and endowed with power to act. As to the means employed by the Sovereign Master of human beings to avert impending dangers from those who beseech His assistance, I confess that the knowledge of them is above the intelligence of man, who can but wonder and adore. Our ignorance
becomes our only resource,and happy, truly happy; are those who cherish their
ignorance! Therefore must we pray to God, and believe that He has granted the
favour we have been praying for, even when in appearance it seems the reverse.

I wish that I knew more about Christianity in the eighteenth century because I would like to know where Casanova stood in the range of attitudes that existed at the time. I am guessing that he must have been a free thinker rather a religious conservative. He believed that God gave man the ability to reason, make his own decisions and follow his own path. Some other Christians at the time thought that God had already decided what would happen to them. I've highlighted the lines where Casanova refers to this idea.
Man is free, but his freedom ceases when he has no faith in it; and the greater power he ascribes to faith, the more he deprives himself of that power which God has given to him when He endowed him with the gift of reason. Reason is a particle of the Creator's divinity. When we use it with a spirit of humility and justice we are certain to please the Giver of that precious gift. God ceases to be God only for those who can admit the possibility of His non-existence, and that conception is in itself the most severe punishment they can suffer.

I found that Casanova's writing does meander a bit. A lot of eighteenth-century books do this so it's not a sign that he was a bad writer. He is definitely worth reading, particularly for his comments on human nature. I'll leave Casanova with the final word:
I have felt in my very blood, ever since I was born, a most unconquerable hatred towards the whole tribe of fools, and it arises from the fact that I feel myself a blockhead whenever I am in their company. I am very far from placing them in the same class with those men whom we call stupid, for the latter are stupid only from deficient education, and I rather like them. I have met with some of them--very honest fellows, who, with all their stupidity, had a kind of intelligence and an upright good sense, which cannot be the characteristics of fools. They are like eyes veiled with the cataract, which, if the disease could be removed, would be very beautiful.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

George Psalmanazar

Travel books were very popular in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain. The readers who bought Equiano's and Sancho's narratives were probably already familiar with tales of Africa and other parts of the world. Unlike today when we expect the writer to have actually been to the places he or she described it was normal in those days for accounts to include sections of previous travel books. To us it seems like cheating, but for them it was merely a way to make a book more informative. Some writers however were out and out frauds. These include George Psalmanazar who went about early eighteenth-century England claiming to be Taiwanese. He was in fact born into a poor gentry family in the south of France in 1679. He first began to pretend to be Asian when making a tour of northern Germany and the Netherlands. He needed money so he told people that he was a Japanese convert to Christianity. George then joined the army in Germany, now pretending to be from Formosa*, which he said was dependent on Japan. It was at this point that he met a British chaplain who saw through his fraud but allowed him to be sent to Oxford where it was intended that he should teach Formosan to Christian missionaries. In 1704 George became very famous when he published An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa. His fantastical inventions raised suspicions among educated people, including his claim that the Formosans' religion required them to make an annual sacrifice of 18,000 boys under the age of nine. (I should think the island would have been depopulated if that had really been the case!) He also wrote that Formosan men ate their ex-wives. He was finally caught out when he met a French Jesuit who had spent time in China.

In the end George came clean. He spent the rest of life taking odd jobs such as tutoring and fan painting. He also worked with early journalists and contributed to books on subjects as diverse as printing and geography. He was very religious in his later years and died in 1763.

* Formosa is the old name for Taiwan. (source: DNB Look at this!!! The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is celebrating its first birthday with three days' free online access from 23 to 25 September 2005. Everyone will be able to access the full Oxford DNB and its 55,000 biographies of the men and women who have shaped the history of Britain. )

Olaudah Equiano's sister

When I sat down at the computer this morning I realised that I didn't know what happened to Olaudah Equiano's sister. So I turned to chapter II of his autobiography. They were kidnapped from their village by Africans, later separated, briefly reunited by coincidence and then never saw each other again. This separating of relatives was something that Equiano felt particularly strongly about. He writes:

I remember in the vessel* in which I was brought over, in the men's apartment, there were several brothers, who, in the sale, were sold in different lots; and it was very moving on this occasion to see and hear their cries at parting. O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you, learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? Are the dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by their separation from their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery with the small comfort of being together and mingling their sufferings and sorrows? Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives? Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery.
* The slave ship.

If Carretta is correct then this part of the autobiography is fictional. When I read it I felt that Equiano was actually there. Even if he wasn't he must have taken his account from the experiences of other slaves he had met. That means that whichever way you look at it the first chapters are a true story.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Salem witchcraft trials

Between June and September 1692 nineteen men and woman were hanged near the Massachusetts village of Salem because they had been found guilty of witchcraft. You can find out more about the trials here and here. These events are still famous today because Arthur Miller wrote a play about them called The Crucible. He is not the only writer to describe the trials. On BBC Radio 4 the book of the week is Judge Sewall's Apology. Judge Sewall was one of the presiding judges at the trials. I listened to the second episode online today and it was very entertaining. If you want to listen to it you should do so this week before it disappears from the website.

The Crucible is not just an historical drama. Miller wrote it in the 1950s at a time when American senator Eugene McCarthy was persecuting American Communists. The anti-Communist hysteria is described by many as a witch hunt and Miller saw similarities between the trials of 1692 and his own day. You can read more about McCarthyism here.

Ignatius Sancho

I mentioned Ignatius Sancho in passing in the previous post, but let's take a closer look at him. He was born on a slave ship in 1729. His mother died and his father killed himself because he did not want to be a slave. In 1731 he was given to three sisters in Greenwich, London as a present. As a young man his appetite for learning impressed the Duke of Montagu and in 1749 Sancho escaped from his owners and was employed as a butler by the Montagu family. In a letter Sancho compared the sisters with the Montagu family:

The first part of my life was rather unlucky, as I was placed in a family
who judged ignorance the best and only security for obedience. A little reading
and writing I got by unwearied application. The latter part of my life has been
thro' God's blessing, truly fortunate, having spent it in the service of one of
the best families in the kingdom. My chief pleasure has been books.

When the Duchess of Montagu died he was left enough money to open a grocery shop in Westminster near the Houses of Parliament. Sancho met a lot of famous people including the painter Thomas Gainsborough, the politician Charles James Fox and the writer Laurence Sterne. He is remembered today as a composer and as the writer of a collection of letters published after his death. (Spartacus)

In 1780 Sancho witnessed the Gordon riots. (There is a more detailed account here.) These began as an anti-Catholic protest and quickly spun out of control. Large numbers of the very poor participated. Sancho wrote about the riots in a letter to his Suffolk friend John Spink. You can see the full text here. I am particularly struck by the following lines:

There is at this present moment at least a hundred thousand poor, miserable, ragged rabble, from twelve to sixty years of age, with blue cockades in their hats - besides half as many women and children - all parading the streets - the bridge - the park - ready for any and every mischief. - Gracious God! what's the matter now? I was obliged to leave off - the shouts of the mob - the horrid clashing of swords - and the clutter of a multitude in swiftest motion - drew me to the door - when every one in the street was employed in shutting up shop. - It is now just five o'clock - the ballad - singers are exhausting their musical talents - with the downfall of Popery, S[andwic]h, and N[ort]h.** $$ ^^
Sancho's eyewitness account really allows us to imagine what it was like to be in London at the time of the Gordon riots.

**Ballads are songs. From at least as early as the sixteenth century (I'd be surprised if it wasn't earlier) ballads were invented about the chief political events of the day. In this case the ballads called for the downfall of popery. Popery was another way of describing catholicism.

$$ Lord North was the prime minister.

^^ Yes, Lord Sandwich invented the sandwich.

Olaudah Equiano- birthplace

The traditional account of Olaudah Equiano's life begins with the idea that when he was eleven years old he and his sister were kidnapped from his West African village to be sold as slaves. After many years in slavery he had enough money to buy his freedom and settled in London. He then self-published his autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Written by Himself in 1789. These sites provide more details of his story: BBC, Spartacus. (Also have a look at Ottabah Cugoano and Ignatius Sancho)

On this site you can read Equiano's account of his journey from Africa across the Atlantic. He writes of his arrival on the ship:

When I looked round the ship too, and saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted of my fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted.

Equiano's description of his journey was particularly important at this time because people in Britain were campaigning to end slavery. (You can read more about the anti-slavery movement here.) Equiano's experiences helped them to understand that Africans suffered a lot during the crossing and that slavery was bad.

American literary critic Vincent Carretta questions the traditional story by suggesting that Equiano was born in South Carolina in North America and was not from an African village. He thinks that most of Equiano's autobiography is true but that he invented his African birth because he knew anti-slavery campaigners needed an account of an Atlantic journey. Many people disagree with Carretta and I have no idea whether he is right. You can find some arguments for and against his idea in this fascinating article. Whatever the truth about Equiano's birth it does not change the fact that he was a truly remarkable man.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Female writers on Project Gutenberg

This evening I read the first chapter of Sisters written by Englishwoman Ada Cambridge (1844-1926) in 1904. It's very vivid in its descriptions and would make excellent television. I don't want to give the ending away but they get in a boat and someone doesn't make it.

I followed it with the beginning of Canadian school teacher Agnes Deans Cameron's THE NEW NORTH: Being Some Account of a Woman's Journey through Canada to the Arctic published in 1909. Where Cambridge sounds archaic ADC's prose style is strikingly contemporary. She writes:

Kipling speaks of "a route unspoiled of Cook's," and we have found it. Going to the office of Thos. Cook & Son, in Chicago, with a friend who had planned a Mediterranean tour, I gently said, "I wonder if you can give me information about a trip I am anxious to take this summer." The young man smiled and his tone was that which we accord to an indulged child, "I guess we can. Cook & Son give information on most places." "Very well," I said, "I want to go from Chicago to the Arctic by the Mackenzie River, returning home by the Peace and the Lesser Slave. Can you tell me how long it will take, what it will cost, and how I make my connections?" He was game; he didn't move an eyebrow, but went off to the secret recesses in the back office to consult "the main guy," "the chief squeeze," "the head push," "the big noise." Back they came together with a frank laugh, "Well, Miss Cameron, I guess you've got us. Cook's have no schedule to the Arctic that way." They were able, however, to give accurate information as to how one should reach Hudson Bay, with modes of travel, dates, and approximate cost. But this journey for another day.

There are more links to books and sites about female explorers here, as well as a link to a book about female arctic travellers including ADC.

Historians of late nineteenth-century France might enjoy American writer Mary King Waddington's My first years as a Frenchwoman, 1876-1879. The first chapter opens with the aftermath of the war.

The Franco-German War was just over--the French very sore and bitter after
their defeat. There was a strong underlying feeling of violent animosity to the
Emperor, who had lost them two of their fairest provinces, and a passionate
desire for the revanche. The feeling was very bitter between the two branches of
the Royalist party, Legitimists and Orleanists. One night at a party in the
Faubourg St. Germain, I saw a well-known fashionable woman of the extreme
Legitimist party turn her back on the Comtesse de Paris. The receptions and
visits were not always easy nor pleasant, even though I was a stranger and had no
ties with any former government. I remember one of my first visits to a
well-known Legitimist countess in the Faubourg St. Germain; I went on her
reception day, a thing all young women are most particular about in Paris. I
found her with a circle of ladies sitting around her, none of whom I knew. They
were all very civil, only I was astonished at the way the mistress of the house
mentioned my name every time she spoke to me: "Madame Waddington, êtes-vous allée à l'Opéra hier soir," "Madame Waddington,vous montez à cheval tous les matins, je crois," "Monsieur Waddington va tous les vendredis à l'Institut, il me
semble," etc. I was rather surprised and said to W. when I got home, "How curious
it is, that way of saying one's name all the time; I suppose it is an old-fashioned French custom. Madame de B. must have said 'Waddington' twenty
timesduring my rather short visit." He was much amused. "Don't you know why? So
that all the people might know who you were and not say awful things about the
'infecte gouvernement' and the Republic, 'which no gentleman could serve.'"

I've only dipped into these three works but I think there's more than enough to keep me going!

Buddhas in Bamiyan

In 2001 Afghanistan was ruled by a hardline Islamic regime known as the Taliban. This government decided to destroy two ancient statues of the Buddha because images of people are not allowed in the Muslim faith. The two statues were very large. One was fifty-three and the other thirty-eight metres tall. They were among the best loved historical sites in Afghanistan and many Afghans were devastated by their destruction. There were also protests from other countries, including Muslim nations like Pakistan and Malaysia. A collection of photographs of the site prior to the statues' demolition can be seen here.

If you go to BBC Radio 4's listen again page and click on Buddhas in Bamiyan you can hear Lyse Doucet's programme about the search for a third Buddha statue. If one is found it will be really good news for a country still mourning the loss of the other two. You should try and listen to it in the next few days because Radio 4 sometimes remove programmes from their archives. I haven't finished listening to it yet so I'll go back now and find out what happens.

Tullia d'Aragona

I wonder how many female writers are represented in Project Gutenberg catalogues. Already this morning I've come across two who strike me as being very interesting indeed. The second is the sixteenth-century Italian poet Tullia d'Aragona. You can read a brief biography of her life here and here , and the Italian text of some of her poems here. My Italian isn't good enough to read them without a very large dictionary so I can only catch the gist. The thing that makes her interesting to me is her career as a female writer. I know that focussing on her gender rather than her poetic ability does her a disservice as a writer; but what else can you do when history is to a large extent still dominated by men?

Mrs Meer Hassan Ali

Project Gutenberg allows you to download hundreds of free examples of classic literature. I was browsing through the author catalogue this morning when I came across OBSERVATIONS ON THE MUSSULMAUNS OF INDIA Descriptive of Their Manners, Customs, Habits and Religious OpinionsMade During a Twelve Years' Residence in Their Immediate Society by Mrs Meer Hassan Ali. You can download her book here.

The author was an Englishwoman who married an Indian Muslim during his stay in England between 1810 and 1816. She finally left India after twelve years because of ill health. I haven't been able to find any other information about her on Google. You can read more about her husband and his family in the 1917 introduction on the Project Gutenberg copy.

I have only skimmed over the first chapter but it looks pretty interesting. If you want to find other books the author catalogue is here.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


I have just finished reading Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy. The story follows Prince Nekhlyudov, a Russian nobleman who when serving on a jury recognises the woman he seduced and abandoned as a younger man. She is now a prostitute on trial for murder and he realises that it was his actions that led to her downfall. He resolves to save her and his own soul by proposing marriage and following her into exile in Siberia. During the course of his attempts to make life easier for her he becomes repulsed by Russia's upper classes and sympathetic towards the plight of the peasants and convicts.

Tolstoy's novel provides a panoramic view of Russian life in the nineteenth century. It reflects the author's own views on the inequality of society and the necessity for change. The profits from the publication went to support the Doukhobors, a Christian fundamentalist peasant sect who taught chastity, teetotalism, vegetarianism, the sharing of goods and property and non-resistance to evil by force.

When Tolstoy wrote this story in 1899 he couldn't have known that in 1917 there would be a revolution in Russia. The Tsar (the Emperor) and his family were shot and after a few years of conflict Russia became a Communist state known in English as the Soviet Union. Communism aimed to abolish the ownership of property. When Resurrection was written a small proportion of Russians were very rich and the majority lived in abject poverty. Communist thinkers like Karl Marx and Lenin wanted everybody to have the same standard of living. Tolstoy's novel is particularly interesting for anyone who wants to know more about the revolution because several of the minor characters are revolutionaries. Resurrection shows that people were already trying to change Russian society two decades earlier and it helps us to understand the terrible living conditions that motivated them.

Anybody interested in social or environmental reform in our own time may find parallels between Nekhlyudov's awakening and their own.

What to expect

Welcome to we are still here. This is one of the many history blogs that are now popping up all over the blogosphere. If you want to find out more about history blogging you should visit the History Carnival. Sharon Howard's Early Modern Notes and HNN's Cliopatria are also good resources for the general state of history blogging.

I've called this post 'What to expect' although even I'm not sure what I'll do here. I would like to explore the different ways of presenting history as entertainment, largely through cartoons, stories, poems and any other medium that comes to mind. The fact that it's easier said than done gives me all the more respect for Terry Deary and The Horrible Histories.