Philobiblon: October 2004

Saturday, October 30, 2004


I was slogging away on a planned submission to an academic journal tonight, my first - deadline yesterday - when just a minute ago I popped on to its website and discovered submissions have been extended to November 20!!!! A slight feeling of anger, then relief that I will actually have time to read it properly. I have to ask any academic readers, is this standard? Do deadlines always get extended?

Anyway, while distracting myself this afternoon I started work on my personal, fully owned Georgian manuscript; I hope to post at least a partial transcript, probably with lots of question marks, in a day or so. The description as purchased is here, although I don't think it was quite right.

The date is actually "the second year of the Reign of our Sovereigne Lord George the Second by Holy Grace of God of Greate Britain and France and ???? Defender of His Faithe or Anno Domini One thousand seven hundred and twenty nine", not 1722.

The term "indenture " made me think of an apprenticeship, which was probably my error: it is certainly a legal document concerning "by estimation eight acres" of "pasture land" and its "premises" - whether to lease or buy I haven't quite worked out: while it is in English there are I suspect a few Latin legal words. The sum involved is "Eighty three pounds, three shillings of faithfull(?) money of great Britain" which is being paid by Amariah Impson (or Empson) to Elizabeth Heales, spinster. (At least I think that is her name; I might have to get some expert advice on this, or buy a book recently recommended on the Shakespeare listserv - Letitia Yeandle (Folger) and Jean Preston (Princeton) -- English Handwriting 1400-1650:
An Introductory Manual, to be found at

I don't usually have the patience to persevere with this sort of thing, but now I've promised I'll have to - you might describe it as personal blackmail.

Not around in the Sixties?

For those, like me, who weren't around in the Sixties (or at least not in a state of development sufficient to take them in), or those who were, but as the old joke goes can't remember them, an interesting (if very US-centric) piece on The Other Sixties. Found on Arts and Letters Daily, a website I've been reading for at least eight years.

I sometimes think it is not as good as it used to be, but that's probably just a trick of perspective; when I was in Bangkok its updating was the intellectual highlight of my day. Now it has more competition.

Friday, October 29, 2004

More from Martha

"I meant to tell you that if you had a television, you'd approve of Channel 4. There are a lot of women on it. Well there are a lot more men, of course, but we must give thanks for small mercies. One documentary programme a week is entirely composed of women. The reviewers keep calling it 'an all-woman team'. They do not call other programmes 'all-man'. For 'all-man' read 'all human beings'. Women, as S. de Beauvoir said so long ago, are still The Other, as in A Bit of The Other." (p. 78)

(First published 1983, could have been published 2004.)

A touch of Tweedie

My copy of the second Jill Tweedie book, More from Martha: Further Letters from a Fainthearted Feminist arrived this morning, and surprise, surprise I'm already half-way through, but I am going to go to sleep soon, honest.

A small sample, proving my papal theme unusually persistent this week:
"I thought the picture of you and Mo as the Pill, in a yellow dinghy, was very novel ...
Anyway, you're right, the Pope has to be lobbied on behalf of women, though it'll do no good. You can't get at Infallibles, you see. They just turn around and say look, you horrible little person. I'm infallible and I'm wearing my infallible Hat, so shut up while I'm talking or I'll excommunicate you. Josh has a fit of the infallibles once a week, so I know the symptoms..." (p. 51)

Prescient words, those "it'll do no good".

More about the Jill Tweedie.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Some fun and some misery

Over at Random Acts of Reality, a wonderful bloggers' hierarchy. Who looks down on who? Place yourself on each line - cat posts at the bottom.

And to complete the tale of the Australian election, little Johnie Howard now has control of the Senate, and hence complete, unfettered control of the country. There go any remaining human rights.

The bottom-pinchers' parade

I can't resist a little on Monica's experience at Flower Gardens, the hostel for female munitions workers.

"One day, a woman in the catering department, whom I cultivated because she so often let fall useful information, said to me: 'Listen. If you want to see where most of the trouble in this place starts, go and look at the Bottom Pinchers' Parade on a Saturday night.'
'The what?' I said, aghast.
So she explained to me that the noble sport of Bottom Pinching (introduced, it was said, into this blameless country by the wicked Americans) was Scoreswick's most popular outdoor game.
Its focal point was the churchyard en route to town. Here, especially on Saturday evenings when the girls walk down to Scoreswick to the pictures, the soldiers would lie in ambush among the graves. And, as they passed by, giggling and squawking according to the manner of their kind, the men would pussy-foot after them and then, suddenly and unexpectedly, nip their behinds.
When the welkin had ceased to ring with their laughter and screeches, it was customary for pinched and pinchers to join forces and proceed arm-in-arm to spend the evening in the town.
'Come along with me one night and watch them at it,' my informant suggested. 'It'll open your eyes to quite a lot of things.'
In the end I allowed myself to be persuaded. She was perfectly right. It did." (p. 157-8)

Finally, I did a quick web-check on Monica and found she seems to have written one more book, about nuns. Otherwise she mostly appears on quote sites, most commonly for: "The moment when you first wake up in the morning is the most wonderful of the twenty-four hours. No matter how weary or dreary you may feel, you possess the certainty that, during the day that lies before you, absolutely anything may happen. And the fact that it practically always doesn't, matters not a jot. The possibility is always there."

Speaking as a night-owl - ugghhh!

Leaping out of the nunnery

Continuing the Catholic theme, and prompted by a discussion of nuns over on C-18, I've dug out an amazing little treasure of a book that I picked up on a 10c stall: "I Leap Over the Wall: A Return to the World After 28 Years in a Convent", by Monica Baldwin (a relation of Stanley), who came out of the convent on October 26, 1941.

She had an experience as close as anyone has ever known to travelling a time-machine, and finds the wardrobes, manners, language and behavouir of 1941 those not so much as of another race as another species.

Some examples:
"An object was handed to me which I can only describe as a very realistically modelled bust bodice. That its purpose was to emphasize contours which, in my girlhood, were always decorously concealed was but too evident.
'This,' said my sister cheerfully, 'is a brassiere. And it's no use looking so horrified, because fashions to-day go out of their way to stress that part of one's anatomy. These things are supposed to fix one's chest at the clasic angle. Like this --' she adjusted the object with expert fingers. 'There - you see the idea?'" (p. 9)

Shops: "Gone were the frock-coated myriads of shopwalkers who had once thonged one's path like obseqious black-beetles; gone were the satin-gowned moddoming ladies with swishing trains and incredible coiffures. Instead, a few rather disdainful elderly women and scornful blondes in their teens had taken over." (p. 19)

London: "the 'leisured classes' - as I remembered them -- had completely disappeared. I've never been able to discover what has become of them. Like Atlantis and the dodo, they have simply vanished away. In their place, London was thronged by what looked like the lower-middle and working class - a vast multitude with strained faces and tired, blitz-haunted eyes." (p. 20)

After various unsuccessful attempts to find war work, she ends up as a matron in a women's hostel for munitions workers. The manageress tells her: "They're an age-group, so are, of course, consripted from different surroundings. You'll find servants, shop-girls, flower-sellers, laundry-hands, quite a lot of mixed Irish, some thieves, a lady or two and several prostitutes. Most of them belong to what are called the working classes. One has to try and handle them according to their kind." (p. 152)

No summary could do justice to her account of this experience.

(My copy is Pan 1957; first published 1949.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Thank the Pope

I was delighted to read that the word "courtesan" was invented in the 15th-century, derived from the female version of "cortegiano" (courtier). It was applied to the women of the Papal court in Rome.

"The Master of Ceremonies at the Papal Court, who was responsible for hiring them, referred to them picturesquely as 'our respectable prostitutes'..."

(This from Kate Hickman's Courtesans, HarperCollins, 2003, p15)

It brings me to today's events, a minor triumph of democracy in Europe, with the withdrawal of the nominated European Commission, which was about to be rejected by the parliament because of the position of Rocco Buttiglione as justice commissioner, responsible for rights issues, when he has expressed extremely prejudiced views on gays and women. He's also apparently a friend of the Pope, certainly a disqualification in my mind.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Sati through European eyes

While browsing around subjects associated with "Encounters", I found this excellent article.

Early encounters

On the weekend I managed a quick rush around the Encounters exhibition at the Victoria & Albert.

Sharon at Early Modern Notes (with whom I on Monday enjoyed a very pleasant "bloggers' lunch" - my first) has already ably reviewed the exhibition, and selected some of the items that I too would highlight.

But there's a few others I'd also mention, particularly the first item in the exhibition, a celandon vase that is the "earliest recorded piece of Chinese porcelain in Europe". It was "probably" given to Louis the Great of Hungary, when a Chinese embassy passed through his kingdom on the way to visiting the pope. (Not what you'd call a fine example of the designer's art, it is, however, a virtuoso display of technology, with the decorative flowers growing out of the vase apparently unsupported.)

This pointed me in the direction of Giovanni de' Marignolli, a traveller of whom I had not previously heard. He was sent to China in the return embassy, making it to Beijing in 1341.

Not much later - (1475-1500) - is a coconut that somehow made its way to England, where it was richly decorated with silver, a measure of its value and a great display of supply and demand.

There's also the wonderful portrait of Shen Fu Tsang, who came to Europe in 1681 and had a prominent place at the court of James II. I've been focusing on that recently for other reasons; you have to wonder what he made of all the political ferment. In 1688 - perhaps after the Glorious Revolution, it didn't say - he left England and became a Jesuit. he died in 1691 near Mozambique, as he was heading home.

The world was perhaps never quite so large as we tend to think.

Finally, worth the price of entrance alone, is Tippoo's Tiger; a must-see.

Monday, October 25, 2004

First crush your mistletoe berries ...

I learn from the notes on my copy of Aesop's Fables that the ancient Greeks caught birds with ixos ("birdlime"), a sticky substance usually made from crushed mistletoe berries, or sometimes from oak-gum or similar. This was spread on branches, on the theory that a bird would then land on them and be caught. (The method is still employed today in mouse and rat-trapping paper sheets they sell in shops in Britain, although the thought of dealing with the trapped rodents ... ugghh!)

But it is hard to imagine this method of bird-catching working; you could smear a lot of paste around without a bird landing anywhere near it. Presumably you'd have to lure them with some food, but surely it would be an obvious trap?

Still, it appears in several of the fables, so it must have been common enough.

eg. Fable 137 (p. 103)
The Bird-catcher and the Asp
A bird-catcher took his snare and birdlime and went out to do some hunting. He spotted a thrush on a tall tree and decided to try and catch it. So, having arranged his [sticky] twigs one on top of the other, he concentrated his attention upwards. While he was gazing thus he didn't see that he had trodden on a sleeping asp, which turned on him and bit him. ... [He dies.]

Fable 242 (p. 178)
The Ant and the Pigeon
A thirsty ant went down to a spring to drink but was caught by the flow of water coming from it and was about to be swept away. Seeing this, a pigeon broke a twig from a nearby tree and threw it into the water. The any clambered on to it and was saved.
While this was going on, a fowler came along with his limed twigs ready to catch the pigeon. The ant saw what was happening and bit the man's foot, so that the pain made him suddenly throw down the twigs, and the pigeon flew off. ... [Motto: One good turn deserves another.]

Those hunters seem to have been a clumsy lot.

From: Aesop: The Complete Fables, O. and R. Temple (trans), Penguin, 1998.
Also the subject of a previous post, here.

A victim?

I'm always keen to find examples of women making a success of their lives, rather than looking for victims, but I was taken today with the fate of Mary Feilding/Hamilton, who was in the court of Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.

Mary was married off in 1620 at the age of seven to the 14-year-old Hamilton. The marriage, however, was not binding until consummated, and six years later he (commendably it would seem) fled to Scotland rather than be forced to have sex with his still extremely young bride, her father having taken her to him for that purpose.

She, and her husband, however, were at the mercy of greater forces, and King Charles, by a mixture of threats and blandishments, eventually forced him back to London, and, on the night of his return, into the bed of his wife 13/14-year-old wife. He pleaded exhaustion and lack of clean linen in the cause of a brief postponement, "Whereupon his Majestie commanded his owne Barber to attend him with a shirt, wastcoat & nightcap of his majesties, & would not be satisfyed till he had seene them both in bed together."

About 10 years later, at the age of 24 or 25, Mary died of consumption, after being at the centre of an unseemingly and, for the dying woman surely hugely traumatic, struggle over her soul.

"The indefatigable Olive Porter ... who was largely responsible for several of the actual of attempted conversions to Roman Catholicism for which Montagu almost found himself sent into exile again, urged proselytising literature on Lady Hamilton; her father, the Protestant Earl of Denbigh, countered by summoning the Bishop of Carlisle. George Con, the Papal agent visited her daily during the autumn of 1637, presumably with the support of her Catholic mother. Both sides threatened her .... with the loss of her immortal soul." (p. 179)

Neither, however, was able to proclaim success, so perhaps Mary was a strong-minded character despite, or perhaps because of, her experiences. The court thought her "gentle and virtuous"; unfortunately it would seem none of her own account of her life survives.

This from Sarah Poynting, "In the name of all the sisters": Henrietta Maria's notorious whores" in Women and Culture at the Courts of the Stuart Queens, ed. Clare McManus. London: Palgrave (2003), pp. 163-85.

Found while researching this, a surprisingly good bibliography of the relevant royalty.

Some more dead Christianity

I'm fascinated by the following paragraph:
"One of the great mythic transformations of the early nineteenth century was the feminisation of angels. Until the 1790s, British art and prose portrayed the angel as masculine or, at most, bisexual - characteristically muscular, strong and even displaying male genitalia, and a free divine spirit inhabiting the chasm of sky and space. But by the early Victorian period angels were virtuously feminine in form and increasingly shown in domestic confinement, no longer free to fly. Women had become divine, but an angel now confined to the house." (p. 58)

A trip to the Tate Britain to check this out is definitely in order.

But I have seen from personal experience, particularly in the case of my grandmother (born 1901), evidence for the following passage:
"Few women before the mid-twentieth century could even attempt to throw off these shackles of their moral identity. Those who did were ... overwhelmingly aristocratic, upper-middle-class, or bohemian and artistic. But for the 'ordinary' women to contemplate revolt against evangelical discourse was, as with 'Amoebe'{a correspondent to the Telegraph], to endanger being a woman. 'My whole motive in life seemed gone, and I felt that the moral which hung upon the motive must go too.' Clinging to or acquiring the status of being 'a Christian' was sine qua non for most women between 1800 and 1950." (p. 128.)

A focus on the start as well as the end date there might be important, as the (approximate) date when the position of women changed very fundamentally.

See here for earlier post and reference.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Popping up everywhere

It seems that several times a week now I find another wonderful woman writer from the 16th or 17th or 18th centuries, before, on many popular accounts, there were any at all.

Today's is Mary Davys, who I encountered during an excellent paper at the "The Women's Studies Group: 1500-1837", of which more here.

It was about her The Fugitive, 1705, of which unfortunately there is not a modern edition, but I've gone looking for some other writing. A sample:
On why she wrote fiction ...

"The Pedant despises the most elaborate Undertaking, unless it appears in the World with Greek and Latin Motto's; a Man that would please him, must pore an Age over Musty Authors, till his brains are as worm-eaten as the books he reads . . . I have neither Inclination nor Learning enough to hope for his favour, so lay him aside.
The next I can never hope to please, is the Dogmatical Puppy, who like a Hedgehog is wrapt up in his own Opinions . . . I leave him therefore . . . I confess the Royal Exchange, Southsea with a P-x, Exchange Alley, and all trade in general, are so foreign to my understanding that I leave 'em where I found 'em and cast an oblique glance at the Philosopher, who I take be a good clever fellow in his way. But I am again forced to betray my ignorance. I know so little of him that I leave him to his, No Pleasure, No Pain; and a thousand other Chimera's while I face about to the Man of Gallantry. Love is a very common topick, but 'tis withal a very copious one; and wou'd the Poets, Printers, and Booksellers but speak the truth of it, they wou'd own themselves more obliged to that one subject for their Bread, than all the rest put together. 'Tis there I fix."
(The Reformed Coquet, 1724, p. 2)

That's typical of her delightfully blunt writing, but it seems she suffered for her style, and with the increasing gentrification of the literary world during her lifetime (1674-1732); the Grub-Street Journal (No 80, 15 July 1731) dismissed her as the author of "several bawdy Novels". Earthy, or down-to-earth
would be a better label.

Art and culture

This is the title of an interesting-looking magazine out of Turkey, with a focus on the meeting of eastern and western cultures, which you can find here. They only have abstracts on the web, but still worth a look.
Two typical stories juxtapose Byzantine amulets and Ottoman talismanic seals.
The Byzantine: "Talismans or amulets were also hung at the doors of houses and churches, in graveyards, and on the cradles of infants. Small bronze bells known as tintinnabula were similarly believed to chase away evil spirits. The 4th century monk Ioannes Khrysostomos recommended a crucifix instead of a bell hung around children's necks or attached to their clothing as a means of protection."
The Ottoman: "The relationship of these beliefs with religion is not always a comfortable one, however. Where the Islamic faith is concerned, the Prophet Muhammad specifically prohibited the use of magic, warning that such practices were harmful and a violation of religious principles. Believers were advised to recite certain prayers from the Koran as protection against the evil eye and magic."
A posting on H-Asia tells me a "women in art" edition is on the way.

A small plug ...

for my piece in today's Independent, about the exhibition Iron Ladies: Women in Thatcher's Britain .

The exhibition is at the Women's Library in London until April.

Friday, October 22, 2004

"The Death of Christian Britain"

On a more cheerful note, I've just finished a fascinating book of this title, by C.G. Brown.

Its thesis is that what it calls the "secularisation" theory, that Britain, and indeed most of the West, has gradually been becoming less and less "Christian", a trend claimed to date back at least to the beginnings of industrialisation and significant urbanisation, is wrong.

Instead, it argues that while there was a significant change about 1800, when piety became "feminised", Christianity continued to have a stranglehold, in large part through its ability to define "respectable" femininity. In fact it was at its strongest in the first decade of the 20th century, and enjoyed a post-WWII resurgence that took it to only just below that peak again, a reflection of and adjunct to the attempt to push women back into the home.

This only, suddenly, broke down during the 1960s, with a "cultural revolution", which it lays down to "the pop record" and later feminism. It makes an interesting point: "The lyrics of all of the 49 songs copyrighted by the Beatles during 1963-4 were about boy-girl romance. Beatles lyrics then changed radically, with romance dropping to ... a mere 5 per cent of 1967 output ... displaced by lyrical themes influenced by amongst other things the anti-war movement, drugs, nihilism, existentialism, nostalgia and eastern mysticism." (p. 178)

It quotes the Moral Welfare Committee of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, which initially was quite optimistic about sexual permissiveness: "If the sanctions of commandment and convention are gone, people are set free to respond to goodness for its own sake ... not by the fear of lost respectability." Finally, however, it concluded: "It is the promiscuous girl who is the real problem here." (p. 180)

The book says, broadly, the church was right in that conclusion. Go girl!

(Routledge, 2001)


Just came across a really annoying article, about "Single Professional Women: A Global Phenomenon Challenges and Opportunities". Sounds all right, and it is in the Journal of International Women's Studies (Vol. 5, No 5, June 2004).

But the theme is: Gosh, isn't it terrible all these educated women are not getting married and having babies, and it's all because they're too picky about husbands. What can we do to change this?

Really, you expect it in the Daily Mail, but in an academic journal of women's studies?!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Marquis de Sade

A raging row (whoops, discussion) on C18-L has provided direction to an interesting essay on the Marquis and "Newtonian virtue".

A vivid imagination

A sixteenth-century scholar, one Nicolas Cardan, saw on awakening one morning the "sun shining though shutters, showing dancing flecks of dust. Imagining he saw a monster in the dust biting off heads with its bloody fangs, he panicked, jumped out of bed and fled the house in only his shirt". (p. 62)

Nothing new about public hysteria then.

From Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults and Millenial Beliefs through the Ages, E. Weber, Hutchinson, London, 1999, p. 62.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


From the Times Literary Supplement of October 8
"Shamateurs", by L.G. Mitchell, a review of the lives of Pitt the Younger by Hague and Turner

"Hague identifies pragmatism as an essential Pittite virtue, and this, combined with hard work, made Britain the fiscal wonder of the world. It was the bills of credit, commercial proposals and tax reforms littering Pitt's desk that defeated the French Revolution. Who would exchange a rising standard of living for the lowly delights of liberty, equality and fraternity?"

Perhaps a small comfort to the mourning Australians I know; you're not alone.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Thou wimpled motley-minded giglet!

No, don't take it personally. I've just discovered, via Purple Pen, the delightful Shakespeare Insulter.

In case you were wondering: Giglet (n.) A wanton; a lascivious or light, giddy girl. (From Brainy Dictionary, which looks rather useful.)

Try that, thou churlish hell-hated measle!

Or alternatively, the full text of the 1970's Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Very much of its time, but useful nonetheless.

Going back 1,600 years from my last post/poet

... takes me to Greece, and Sappho.

She was one of the many women of the past about whom I knew disgracefully little, but a bit of academic remaindering should help to sort that out. A lot in Reading Sappho: Contemporary Approaches (ed. E. Greene, 1996, Uni of California Press) is too technical for my non-knowledge of Greek, or my interest in the finer points of poetry, but some chapters are brilliant, for example "Sappho and Helen," by P. duBois (p. 79-88)

It concentrates on one fragment, as reconstructed:

Some say a host of horsemen, others of infantry,
and others of ships, is the most beautiful thing
on the dark earth: but I say, it is what you love.

Full easy it is to make this understood of one and all;
for she that far surpassed all mortals in beauty,
Helen, her most noble husband

Deserted, and went sailing to Troy, with never a
though for her daughter and dear parents. The ...
(Cyprian goddess) led her from the path ...
... Which now has put me in mind of Anaktoria far away;

Her lovely way of walking, and the bright radiance
of her changing face, would I rather see than
your Lydian chariots and infantry full-armed.

It is a beautiful piece of poetry. Some expert comments:
"The poem works on the tension between desire, love, presence, and absence, and on the threat of war outside, the drama of pursuit of love. In each of the three parts of the lyrics Sappho refers to the world of war, the world of men and heroes ..." (P. 82)

"Much of the energy of the poem comes from the force of her personal preference, her ability to make Anaktoria walk before us, but Anaktoria's presence is straining to break out of a structure which gives her existence wider meaning.... Helen is an element of the old epic vocabulary, yet she means something new here.

"Sappho subverts the transitional interpretation of her journey to Troy. And in doing so she speaks of desire in new terms, circling down on a definition of the abstract force. Eros is a term insufficiently abstract; Eros is a god, Aphrodite a personification. Sappho moves towards the abstract by employing the substitutability of things, people, shops. She achieves a representation of desire by the accumulation of details, examples, personal testimony." (p. 83)

Sappho is writing at a time of transition from myth to rationality, DuBois says. In nearby Lydia money was being invented at the same time, which Aristotle saw as allowing abstract thought, through the creation of abstract values. So Sappho is ranking by value.

In oral literatures women are usually described as objects, things to be exchanged - e.g The Iliad starts with the return of Chryseis and the seizure of Briseis - or as fixed markers that men move past, e.g. Odysseus leaving Kalypso's island.

"Sappho, however, acts, as did Helen, in loving Anaktoria, in following her in her poem, in attempting to think beyond the terms of the epic vocabulary. Her action is possible because the world of oral culture, of a certain type of exchange, a type of marriage characteristic of such societies, is no longer dominant. ... The institutions of the democratic cities have not yet evolved. The lyric age, the age of the tyrants, is a period of confusion, turbulence, and conflict; it is from this moment, this break, that Sappho speaks."( p. 87)

Monday, October 18, 2004

Well just one more Sei

No 64 Surprising and Distressing Things
While one is cleaning a decorative comb, something catches in the teeth and the comb breaks.
A carriage overturns. One would have imagined that such a solid, bulky object would remain forever on its wheels. It all seems like a dream - astonishing and senseless.
A child or a grownup blurts out something that is bound to make people uncomfortable.
All night long one has been waiting for a man who one thought was sure to arrive. At dawn, just when one has forgotten about him for a minute and dozed off, a crow caws loudly. One wakes with a start and sees that it is daytime - most astonishing.
One of the bowmen in an archery contests stands trembling for a long time before shooting: when finally he does release his arrow, it goes in the wrong direction. (p. 117-8)

No 134 Letters are Commonplace
Letters are commonplace enough, yet what splendid things they are! When someone is in a distant province and one is worried about him, and then a letter suddenly arrives, one feels as though one were seeing him face to face. Again, it is a great comfort to have expressed one's feelings in a letter even though one knows it cannot yet have arrived. If letters did not exist, what dark depressions would come over one! When one has been worrying about something and wants to tell a certain person about it, what a relief it is to put it all down in a letter! Still greater is one's joy when a reply arrives. At that moment a letter really seems like an elixir of life. (p. 207.)

OK. In the interests of copyright better stop now. I'd recommend buying the book; you won't regret it!

Sunday, October 17, 2004

How to 'vote' in the US election

An interesting idea from the Guardian; you can get the name and address of a (presumably undecided or swingable) voter in a key constituency and write them to give your view. Here.

Who knows, it might even make a difference. My prediction is that the election will be undecided 48 hours after the vote has finished and it will all end up in the courts again. Partly, this will be because it is so close, but also because I suspect that the idea of "Her Majesty's loyal opposition" (which is a pretty odd concept in historical terms) -- a preparedness to accept you will lose power and gain it again in due course -- has broken down in the US, at least among Republicans.

More Sei

You might ask about her life; little is known except what the Pillow Book reveals, and it is by no means a conventional diary. Her father was a poet and a scholar, and she may have been briefly married to a court official and had a son. The introduction says: "There is a tradition that she died in lonely poverty; but this is probably an invention of moralists."

A few more of her words:

Item 74: Things That Lose by Being Painted
Pinks, cherry blossoms, yellow roses. Men or women who are praised in romances as being beautiful.

Item 75: Things That Gain by Being Painted
Pines, Autumn fields. Mountain villages and paths. Cranes and deer. A very cold winter scene; an unspeakably hot summer scene. (p. 138.)

Item 174. The Way in Which Carpenters Eat

The way in which carpenters eat is really odd. When they had finished the main building and were working on the eastern wing, some carpenters squatted in a row to have their meal; I say on the veranda and watched them. The moment the food was brought, they fell on the soup bowls and gulped down the contents. They they pushed the bowls aside and finished off all the vegetables. I wondered whether they were going to leave their rice; a moment later their wasn't a grain left in the bowls. They all behaved in exactly the same way, so I suppose this must be the custom of carpenters. I should not call it a very charming one." (p. 255.)

More here and here.

Pillow blogging

I've been thinking about the process of blogging and its predecessors, which took me back to one of my favourite books of all time, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, by a lady-in-waiting to the Japanese empress in the last decade of the 10th century AD. It's a journal, a commonplace book, a collection of poetry and in some ways a conduct book. Sei was, no doubt typically of her time, a terrible snob, but delightfully free from repressive morality.

Her conduct advice still seems pretty good:
"A good lover will behave as elegantly at dawn as at any other time. He drags himself out of bed, with a look of dismay on his face. The lady urges him on: 'Come, my friend, it's getting light. You don't want anyone to find you here.' He gives a deep sigh, as if to say that the night has not been nearly long enough and that it is agony to leave. Once up, he does not instantly pull on his trousers. Instead he comes close to the lady and whispers whatever was left unsaid during the night. Even when he is dressed, he still lingers, vaguely pretending to be fastening his sash.
Presently he raises the lattice, and the two lovers stand together by the side door while he tells her how he dreads the coming day, which will keep them apart; then he slips away. The lady watches him go, and this moment of parting will remain among her most charming memories.
Indeed, one's attachment to a man depends largely on the elegance of his leave-taking. When he jumps out of bed, scurries about the room, tightly fastens his trouser-sash, rolls up the sleeves of his Court cloak, over-robe or hunting costume, stuffs his belongings into the breast of his robe and then briskly secures the outer sash - one really begins to hate him."

(Trans. I Morris, Penguin, London, 1967, p. 49-50

Saturday, October 16, 2004

A history of women

... is the "big" title of Marilyn French's latest, a big three-volume set, from the sound of the Guardian review.

The reviewer's not sold, but it still sounds like a great idea.

Drawing the line

I spent this afternoon working at the British Museum's Big Draw event. It's a day when the Great Court really comes into its own, as a great hive of buzzing, excited people. It is surprising how keen people of all ages are to express themselves with a crayon when given the chance.

Then I stewarded a talk by the artist Professor Michael Craig Martin. (I'll confess I hadn't heard of him; while I enjoy modern art I've not developed the interest as much as I would like.) Some samples here.

He made some interesting observations, obviously from an artist/philosopher's eye.

* Objects are becoming more and more alike, and their functions less and less obvious, e.g. telephones. In the Seventies it was obvious how you held a handset, where you talked and where you listened, but that is not true of mobiles today.

* Asked about the apparent lack of emotion in his work, he questioned why we assume a violent squiggled line is more "expressive" or "emotional" than a straight line.

* He argued a true personal expression is something that the artist cannot help; that's what tells you what the artist is.

* Asked about the YBA movement (many of whose members he taught) he said that while many might lack traditional skills, this was not a handicap, indeed it could be an advantage, because they had to discover an individual way to express themselves, a way to dominate what they did. "When you are talking about a skill it is something we recognise; it already exists."

The talk was supposed to be mainly about the "Drawing the Line" exhibition, which he curated. It matched, or paired, drawings from all ages, and it was interesting how some of the most modernist sat beautifully beside a Raphael or a Michelangelo, each telling you something about the other.

Perhaps Hastings wasn't so bad

From today's DNB email: "There is some evidence to suggest that Godwine [father of Henry II of England] was the son of the late tenth-century renegade and pirate Wulfnoth of Sussex, who had rebelled spectacularly against Aethelred the Unready and had purloined his fleet; and judging from the location of Godwine's estates it does appear that the family had long been established as thegns in Sussex and Hampshire."

Friday, October 15, 2004

The underclass; it's been around a while

Strange news from Shadwell
Being a True & Just Relation of
the Death of Alice Fowler, who had
for many years been accounted a Witch

"In King St near Whapping, lived a widow woman named Alice Fowler, about the age of four score years, and had always been a malicious ill-natured woman and for many years had been accounted a witch; she was always observed to be muttering and grumbling to herself, and was continually holding a Discourse as it were with herself ... she was always poor, as it is observable that those kind of people are."

[Her son Waler, had been transported to Barbados; "nine years since he was hung for murdering his wife & breaking open a house."]

The poor neighbour who was nursing her went out, locking her in & taking the key. When she came back "local account had her lying dead on the floor with her 2 big toes tied together, naked, with a blanket lying over her" ... neighbours examined the body and "found 5 Teats, all as black as Coal".

She was buried at St Paul's, Shadwell. No one attended the funeral.

Printed by E. Mallet, London, 1685.
I just cycled home through Shadwell; it hasn't changed much.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

A note for makers of horror films

I learnt today from a talk at the British Museum that you've got it all wrong. Mummies were not white, or even off-white; most of the ones you see in museums are just like that because they've been exposed to light for some time and the dye has faded.

The outer wrapping was usually a deep pinkish red (there are a couple of examples in gallery 64 for anyone interested), sometimes with strips of contrasting colour patterned across it.

The mummy masks have blue hair because the hair of the gods was thought to be made of lapis lazuli, and and faces were made of gold, or gold-painted cloth because that was what the gods' faces were made of.

If the owner, or the rellies, could afford it, the body was coated with resin after the drying process, a resin made especially from the pistacia tree. The ancient Egytian word was sineture (sp?) - "that which makes divine". It again helped up the mummy on the level of the gods.

You could buy happiness in the afterlife, it seems, or at least the status of a god.

More here.

A new idea

From yesterday's research: John Wilkins, distinguished Royal Society member, was, I learnt, keen on developing a new "universal" language. (A sign of how even in the 17th-century at least some people saw that Latin was on the way out.) His "Essay Towards a Real Character and Philosophical Language" was read to the Royal Society on May 14, 1668.

His language is explored in an essay here, appropriately enough "translated from the Spanish".

Cultural appropriation

I went to an interesting talk today (well yes it is 2am, but it's today in my terms) on Mahdism in Africa at the Britism Museum. (I love learning about things I know nothing about.)

The object highlighted that I found most interesting was a huge cylindrical slit drum, maybe 2m long and a good metre in circumference, carved, it seemed, out of a single tree trunk, that was taken from the forces of the Khalida Obdullahi (the Mahdi's successor) after the battle of Omdurman (Sudan) in 1898. This is a form normally used many hundreds of miles to the south-west in Central Africa, but was probably made by the black slave troops who eventually formed Mahdism's crack troops. (This was after the Mahdi had got over his aversion to firearms, which did not square with his "knightly" form of Islam.)

What is particularly interesting is that it is carved with Arabic script, "Islamising" it, and taking it from its pagan roots. There are also some "throwing knives" displayed beside it that have been through the same process.

Unfortunately the drum is not on the BM's website, but there are some fairly similar ones here.

There are quote marks around "throwing knives" because actually these were seldom if ever used for that purpose, or even as weapons, although they look like pretty effective ones, being instead symbols of rank and status. (Some early Europeans even called them boomerangs, but as you can tell from the pictures here, you really wouldn't want them whizzing back at you.)

A note in the gallery says: "Mahdism remains a vital political force in contemporary Sudan"; history isn't just for fun.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Jill Tweedie

Lovely biography in my inbox this morning from DNB on Jill Tweedie, written in a beautifully dry style: " ... one of her uncles, by then resident in Vancouver, to spend time with his family in Canada. She stayed there for six months, fell unsuitably in love again-this time with a cousin-and was dispatched home; however, she cashed in her air ticket and stopped off in Montreal instead. There she got work, initially as a reindeer in a Christmas display ...."

I knew her Letters from a Fainthearted Feminist, my battered copy of which I have just dug out. I realise from the pencil pound sign inside I must have acquired when I first came to Europe in 1990. (So it has since been to Australia, Thailand and back to England.)

I hadn't known how dramatic her life had been, however, or that there was a sequel, More From Martha; off to abebooks ....

But I'm left pondering how DNB are going to keep up the current email rate. They're sending male and female biogs on alternating days, but since I heard somewhere it is still only about 15% female, aren't they going to run out?

Havoc and plague

To complete a mixed day of work and indulgence I've devoted this evening to reading the much-praised Havoc In Its Third Year, by Ronan Bennett.

It has some interesting colourful set pieces, lots of period detail and so far as I can tell is very true to history, but overall I found it a disappointment. All but the main character, John Brigge, coroner, are only sketched as stereotypical stick figures: the stern Puritan hypocrite, the half-mad female vagrant prophet, the martyrdom-seeking Catholic priest, and even Brigge himself is a somehow bloodless, emotionless; his faith has no explanation and his resignation to fate seems unreal. (This may indeed be true to period, but doesn't engage this modern reader.)

I think the Booker judges got it right in leaving it off the shortlist, but here's a different view.

It did, however, send me back to what I consider a wonderful book, Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, about the "plague village" of Eyam, which, in the fiction as the history, locked itself off from neighbouring settlements to avoid spreading the contagion, and suffered horribly. The ending is perhaps a little Hollywoodish, and the main character overly "modern" in her thought, but it is a wonderfully uplifting tale.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004


I was sitting this afternoon in the Starbucks opposite the British Library, wrapping myself around a soy-milk chai tea, shamelessly people-watching, particularly the guy with the swish wi-fi lap-top, the tasteless crumpled T-shirt, the chiselled jaw and impossibly high cheekbones. (He was about 22; I was only looking.)

I was also reading Jean Baudrillard's The Perfect Crime, which I had just picked up for £4, together with several other books, from the academic remainder bookshop.

I was thinking this was as close to heaven as I was going to get. I spent the day in the BL, but not in my usual mad flurry, just cleaning up some lose ends and checking out the new Dictionary of National Biography - to my relief there was nothing to demand any major rewriting of what I've done - a few extra bits and piece only: phew!

What I really need is much more time to read, to think, to reflect, not always rushing. (People who know me will have problems imagining me doing anything but.) I have absorbed rather a lot in the past 20 years, but there are still vast amounts of things I want to absorb, and indeed put out. I really need to make time to make that happen.

Only yesterday I was saying this wasn't a personal blog, and mostly it isn't, so for real content, a little Baudrillard. (I absolutely totally disagree with his end-point -- I think he's typically masculinist in his inability to accept the existence of the body* -- but I do so often read him and say : "Yes! That's a brilliant idea!")

"... the main objection to reality is its propensity to submit unconditionally to every hypothesis you can make about it. With this its most abject conformism, it discourages the liveliest minds. You can subject it - and its principle (what do they get up to together, by the way, apart from dully copulating and begetting reams of obviousness?) - to the most cruel torments, the most obscene provocations, the most paradoxical insinuations. It submits to everything with unrelenting servility. Reality is a bitch. And that is hardly surprising, since it is the product of stupidity's fornication with the spirit of calculation ... (p. 3)

And for the historical bent:
"The iconolaters of Byzantium were subtle folk, who claimed to represent God to his greater glory but who, simulating God in images, thereby dissimulated the problems of his existence. Behind each of these images, in fact, God had disappeared. He was not dead; he had disappeared. That is to say, the problem no longer even arose. It was resolved by simulation. This is what we do with the problem of the truth or reality of this world: we have resolved it by technical simulation, and by creating a profusion of images in which there is nothing to see." (p. 5)

(Translated by Chris Turner, Verso, London, 1996)
* Although I also get annoyed with "female" and "the body" always being grouped together.

A last word on the Australian election

From today's Sydney Morning Herald spike column.

Proposed new words for Advance Australia Fair, by Geoff Francis and Peter Hicks:

"Australians all let us rejoice
For we have tasted greed
Our interest rates mean more to us
Than mere humanity
Our land abounds with credit cards
And John Howard took us there ...

Pinned to the hearse

While digging around the Gatehouse, I came up with a lovely piece that I printed out at the British Library (at the ridiculous cost of 20p a page - such a rip-off!) for no reason other than I thought it was a brilliant tale: "A Poem on the archbishop's hearse: puritanism, libel and sedition after the Hampton Court Conference," by Alastair Bellany. It is a reminder there's really nothing new about the activities of Greenpeace et al.; people have been engaging in spectacular stunts to get their views across for a very long time indeed.

Imagine the scene: the solemn funeral of Archbishop John Whitgift in March 1604, at the Croydon Parish Church. As is traditional, wellwishers (and toadies) have placed laudatory epitaphs on the hearse, but - shock horror - among them is a tirade of doggerel against the dead man and his successor ("dumb dickye").

An extract:
"Your great Patron is dead and gone,
& Jockey hath left dumb dickye alone.
Popishe Ambition, vaine superstition,
couloured conformity, canckared envye,
Cunninge hipocrisie, faigned simplicity,
macked impiety, servile flatterye,
Goe all dance about his hearse,
& for his dirge chant this verse ... (p. 138)

The author explains that many of the complaints are typical of those of the Puritans of the time, and he compares it to "the mocking songs of the carivari. (See
earlier post.)

The culprit, it emerged nearly a year later, was one Thomas Bywater, a suspended preacher. Dragged before the Star Chamber, attempts to claim you could not libel a dead person failed (the perfect defence today, provided there are no inconvenient relatives around), because it was held that it had offended a representative of the Church, and therefore Queen Elizabeth, and therefore that legal entity called "The Crown"(p. 158).

Pickering was sentenced to pay a fine of £1,000, a year's jail and to be pilloried in London, Croydon and Northampton. If he did not confess, his ears were to be nailed to the pillory. (p. 160) He did not suffer all of these punishments, although certainly spent from time in jail.

Interesting thought on the punishment: the pillory and, not infreqently, mutliation. "Punishment for libel was, in itself, a ritualized form of libel." (p. 159) For a great example: William Prynne.

Editors today might count themselves lucky.

From: Journal of British Studies 34, April 1995, pp. 137-164.

Monday, October 11, 2004

A Blog-ography

A little post of mine on Saturday about Mary Lady Broughton widow and "Keeper of the Gatehouse Prison" (in Westminster), caught the attention of Sharon at Early Modern Notes. She shared her existing knowledge and added more, and has discovered a whole dynasty.

To continue the collaborative effort, a bit more on the gatehouse. It must have been a pretty grim place by the 17th-century, old jails usually being so. It was finished in 1370 "as the new gatehouse to the conventual buildings of Westminster Abbey at Broad Sanctuary. It contained then, or later, two jails: one used by the bishop of London for prisoners to be judged by clerical law, and the other for lay offenders. Both were administered by the abbot of Westminster .... The approximate site of the prison is that of today's war memorial to former scholars of Westminster School, outside the abbey". (From The Annals of London: A Year-by-Year Record of a Thousand Years of History, J. Richardson, Cassel & Co, 2000, p. 50) The Gatehouse was demolished in 1774.

The only reason most people would have to have heard of it is Richard Lovelace, the Cavalier poet, who was held there in 1642, when he wrote: “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage; Mindes innocent and quiet take That for a Hermitage.” You can find out more about him here and a copy of the poem, To Althea, From Prison.

Now I've done it ...

Yep, ebay again. I just couldn't resist the "Georgian Vellum Indenture 1722 Eliza Heald Lincoln".
Thirty pounds seems a reasonable price to me, not that I actually did any research on the subject; I was captivated, so I bought it. I have got an idea of how I might get the money back, but I really don't care if it works out.
Yes, an utterly frivolous purchase, but rather better than a new item of clothing, I think!
P.S. If you are thinking "that should be in a museum", well you're probably right, but my will does leave all my books to a library: that's my excuse anyway!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Not looking good for James II

An Ode to the King of his Return from New-market
(for Charles II after the collapse of the Rye House plot)
Set by Mr. Baptist, Master of the Queen's Musick, London
Printed for R. Bentley, in Russel-Street in Covent-Garden, with the Authors Consent 1684

"England's Hope and Rome's Despair
Earth's delight, and Heaven's care!
"O Live for ever!
Happy keep us still, and free,
We no successor wish to see."

Marrying well

Just found my notes from a recently ended mini-exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery about the "Gaiety Girls", a term that originally applied to actresses at the Gaiety Theatre, but was later broadened to cover all Edwardian musical actresses.

I was particularly taken by Olive May. Not especially good-looking from her photo, but she obviously had "it", managing to marry twice into the peerage, being Lady Victor Paget from her first marriage in 1913 to divorce in 1921, and the Countess of Drogheda, after marrying the 10th Earl in 1922. She was most famous for her role as Doris Bartle in Leslie Stuart's Peggy. She sang "The Lass with a Lasso", roping in a bevy of chorus boys. Her aim was obviously good.

London, in a better light

Also from the Handbook:
From Shadwell's Epson Wells, 1676:
Lucia: "I have vow'd to spend all my life in London. People do reallly live no where else; they breathe and move and have a kind of insipid dull being, but there is no life but in London. I had rather be Countess of Puddle-Dock than Queen of Sussex."

Poetry, or something ....

Since it is now officially tomorrow I can put up another post ...

Abchurch Lane, off Lombard St, in which I have an interest for another reason, was the home of Mr John Moore, "author of the celebrated worm-powder", of whom Pope is said to have written (I'm having problems believing it):
"Oh learned friend of Abchurch Lane,
Who sett'st our entrails free!
Vain is they art, thy powder in vain,
Since worms shall eat e'en thee."
from Handbook of London: Past and Present, 1850, P. Cunningham.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

A Victorian almost-feminist and a Stuart jailkeeper

Yes, I'm back from my 17th-century sedition, and got some nice pieces for that. But I was particularly taken by C. Jeaffreson, editor of the Middlesex County Records (Old Series) who wrote in 1892 ...
"at a time when countless gentlefolk of good birth and high education are sustaining themselves as teachers, artists, medical practitioners, legal practitioners, government clerks, private secretaries, journalists, tradewomen, hospital nurses without losing ... their ancestral dignity ... a lady of title ... would think twice and for a third time before she accepted the position of keeper of the county jail." (p. xxiv, in the 1972 edition)

He was talking about the case of Mary Lady Broughton, "widow" and "Keeper of the Gatehouse Prison" (in Westminster). On 29 August 1670 she was accused of "wittingly and wilfully" suffering Thomas Ridley, who was in her custody on the charge of stealing a silver cup worth 25 shillings, to escape. There's no subsequent information and the good Mr Jeaffreson concludes the case ends there.

Now I notice this is my 5th post for the day: enough already! I'm going away and not coming back, at least until tomorrow; 4,000 words to write in the meantime ...

SO, So, so depressing

Australia is headed for another term of conservative government, in fact with a swing towards the discredited, morally bankrupt, reactionary regime.

I was thinking of all the Bangkok taxi-drivers, not usually known for their knowledge of international affairs, who were horrified by Howard's "America's deputy sheriff in Asia" comment. The international damage, not to mention the national, will take decades to repair, if indeed it is repairable.

I'm off to the London archives to chase down some 17th-century slander against the king and government; hopefully that will cheer me up.

Christine Audler, a mystery

A puzzle from the Calendar of State Papers Domestic, Feb-Dec 1685:

July 16: Christine Audler, "a rebel" is taken into cutody by the keeper of Newgate. (p. 265)
July 17: "To Captain Richardson, Keeper of Newgate Prison, Warrant to deliver the bodies of Christine Audler and Garrett Garrowe, prisoners in his custody, to Henry Evans, messenger" to bring them before the Earl of Sunderland. (Secretary of State)

Wasting time ...

While trying to write (well I have made 2,000 words of the 3,000 words target; just have to write 4,000 tomorrow), I ended up searching for myself on google, with interesting results.

My master's thesis on the cyber world comes up on a "body building porn" site!! (I won't bother to point you to that one).

And a piece I wrote on the Rosetta stone has been translated into Spanish for what seems to be an Egyptology site; nice to think someone thought it worth the effort, thanks!

Politics and your choice of beverage

In the 1670s and 1680s, "coffee itself was often identified as 'puritanical', 'seditious' and 'Whig', whereas ale or tea was often seen as 'conformist', 'loyal' and 'Tory'."

Must be off to Starbucks then .... yes I know that's not a PC statement, but after living in Bangkok for a few years I can hardly explain to you how wonderful it was when Starbucks arrived: air-conditioned, no smoking, no alcohol, and no women with numbers on their dresses: Starbucks and Irish theme pubs made Bangkok a far more livable place.

from M. Zook, Radical Whigs and Conspiratorial Politics in Late Stuart England, Penn State Uni Press, 1999, p. 6.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The early industrial revolution

Engine-looms making silk ribbons grew more common after the Restoration and there were riots in London in August 1675 against their use.
"Trouble started on the night of Sunday 8 August around Moorfields, and over the next four days spread to Spitalfields, Stepney, Whitechapel, Cloth Fair and Blackfriars ... and also beyond that to Stratford le Bow, Westminster, and Southwark. .. One report claimed that there were 'reckoned to be above 30,000' tumultuous weavers in the City of London alone .... at least 85 engine-looms belonging to 24 different owners were destroyed.
... of the 201 suspects who eventually appeared in court, 11 were females. This is in contrast to the more specifically political riots of the reign, for which there is no evidence of female participation."
From T. Harris, London Crowds in the Reign of Charles II, Cambridge Uni Press, 1987, p. 193.

Sad Life

Just up the road from me, in Chancery Lane, in 1666 was born Mary "Moll" Jones. Her parents were hopeless debtors; she worked as a hoodmaker, then married an apprentice with extravagent tastes. Turning to pickpocketing to support this, she was caught stealing from Jacob Belafay, chocolate-maker to James II and William III. Branded on the hand, she turned to shoplifting for four years, for which she was again branded. Eventually caught stealing a piece of satin from a shop on Ludgate Hill, she was hanged at Tyburn at the age of 25 on 18 December 1691.
From A. Brooke and D. Branden, Tyburn: London's Fatal Tree, Sutton, Thrupp, 2004, p. 93.

The self-taught wax modeller

I just got around to looking up Catherine Andras, and found this short biography and an apparent picture of the Nelson model, said to be still in Westminster Abbey. (A pretty amazing survival if true.)

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The female 'Grand Tour'

So it seems women could "go it alone", or almost. Still from Nelson's Women:

"... the intelligent, socially aware Cornelia Knight, an admiral's daughter aged forty-two who had written a novel and was touring the Continent with her mother, who had herself met Dr Johnson and his circle. While staying at a hotel in Naples, both became friends of Sir William and Lady Hamilton, although more sincerely attached to the former than the latter. Miss Knight kept a mordant eye on the eccentric Neapolitan court, describing how the King 'used to pass out house on his way to the lake where he caught gulls that he sold to the fish-dealers' and that the Queen was subject to 'fits of devotion, at which times she stuck short prayers amd pious ejaculations inside of her stays, and occasionally swallowed them'." (p. 104)

A quick resort to the invaluable abebooks tells me there is a biography, unpromisingly titled "The Prim Romantic", from 1965 ... and her Dinabarbis is available in a joint edition with Johnson's Rasselas; now how can I justify buying them ....?

P.S. Quoted without comment, Emma Hamilton, as rumours of the Battle of the Nile were circulating: "The newspapers have tormented and almost killed me in regard to the desperate action you have fought with the French fleet. How human faculties can be brought to make others intentionally miserable I cannot conceive. In my opinion, a newspaper writer, or fabricator for them, is a despicable creature bearing a human shape." (p. 107)

Professional women

The last report from the holiday reading is on Nelson's Women, by Tom Pocock (Andre Deutsch, London, 1999).

It left me musing on - aside from how abominably he treated his wife Fanny - how often professional women pop up in the apparently oddest places and times, yet somehow this is never acknowledged.

The Admiral's last sitting for a portait was joint one, for the miniaturist Robert Bowyer and Catherine Andras, who modelled in wax. (p. 215.) After Trafalgar, she produced a full-size figure of Nelson that stood in Westminster Abbey, dressed in one of his uniforms.(p. 225.)

Also, how so many women had the most dramatic lives, but left so little record. In 1803 Nelson spoke for Edward Despard at his trial for treason over a plot to kill the King and take over the government the year before.

"All Nelson was able to do for his old friend was to have his sentence of death commuted from one of hanging, drawing and quartering to hanging and decapitation after death. But he was able to recommend some financial help for Despard's black wife, who had accompanied him from the Caribbean. After Nelson spoke of the case to Lord Minto, the latter noted, 'Mrs Despard, he says, was violently in love with her husband. Lord Nelson solicited a pension, or some provision for her, and the Government was well disposed to grant it.'" (p. 196-7)
What a life that must have been.

A morning of plague

I had an interesting morning yesterday the Institute of Historical Research's "The Great Plague of London: experiences and explanations". Yes, I know I have odd ideas of entertainment.

Lots of good stuff, but I was particularly taken with a paper from Dr Patrick Wallis of the LSE on "doctoring the plague", which explored attitudes to what physicians should do when the dreaded disease struck. What they actually mostly did was ran away, and, he indicated most people thought this was perfectly reasonable, particularly since this was what almost all of their patients, those who were wealthy enough to pay them, did.

e.g., he presented James Balmford, vicar of St Olave's Southwark: "As for Phisitions, I onely propound this question: Whether they be bound in conscience to be resident, in regard of their profession and ability to do good, or they may use their liberty to shift for themselves, & (as they thinke) for their lives, in regard they are no publicke persons and live (not by common stipend, but) by what they can get." The vicar came down on the second side.
This from A Short Dialogue Concerning the Plagues Infection (London 1603)

Although Dr Wallis pointed out that the good vicar himself was under something of a cloud in the subject. He stayed in town, but refused to visit dying plague victims.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The French Revolution ...

... was something I knew disgracefully little about, so also on my holiday reading list - the culturally relevant bit - was Christopher Hibbert's The French Revolution. It is striking how many women appear in prominent roles, good and bad.

On what is called "The day of the market-women":

On the morning of 5 October huge crowds of women gathered in the central markets and in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine shouting for bread ... They were mostly poissardes, fishwives, working women, prostitutes and market stall holders, but among them were several quite smartly dressed bourgeoises who appeared as angry as the rest. Together they marches towards the Place de Greve ... stormed up the steps of the Hotel de Ville. The guards were disarmed and their weapons handed to men who had now joined the demonstration ... Persuaded that their best hope was to petition the King, they then set off for Versailles under the not entirely willing leadership of that self-proclaimed hero of the taking of the Bastille, Stanislas Maillard, who evidently considered it undignified to command such motley female troops. (p. 97)

There is of course also the horrific parts of the story. Don't read the following if sensitive to such things!
During the September massacres that preceded the execution of the King ...
"One prisoner who did not escape the assassins' blades was Marie Gredeler, a young woman who kept an umbrella and walking-stick depository in the courtyard of the Palais Royal. Charged with having mutilated her lover, she was herself mutilated, her breasts were cut off, her feet were nailed to the ground and a bonfire was set alight between her spreadeagled legs." (p. 174)
A reminder that there's nothing particularly unique about, say, the massacres of Tutsis in Rwanda.

(References from the Penguin edition of 1982)

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Female realities

A couple more snippets from Sentimental Murder:

"The readers of Ann Sheldon's Memoirs must have felt that in London procurers were everywhere. Sheldon met her first bawd when a Mrs Horsham, a very respectable-looking woman, engaged her in polite conversation on a bench in St James's Park. She als became friendly with the fruit-seller who worked in the lobby of the House of Commons, and took fees from MPs in return for girls' names and addresses. .... In later years she turned bawd herself. ... She worked for Lord Grosvenor ... but was shocked by his taste for low life. She brought him poor girls from Westminster Bridge covered in vermin and was astonished at the medley of mistresses that filled his house: 'the garret was inhabited by pea-pickers - the first floor by a woman of elegance, - the parlour by women servants, - and the kitchen by a negro wench.'" (p.98)

The St James's Chronicle's view of Martha Ray, the "kept woman".

Her person was very fine, her face agreeable, and she had every Accomplishment that could adorn a woman, particularly those of Singing, and Playing most exquisitely on the Harpsichord. She was also highly respected by all those who knew her, especially att the Servants, and her death is most sincerely regretted in the Family. p. 52.
(Interesting that the servants' view was regarded as important.)

Monday, October 04, 2004

Sentimental Murder

Also on my holiday reading list was John Brewer's Sentimental Murder, HarperCollins, 2004, an account of the treatment through the centuries of the story of the killing in 1779 of Martha Ray, the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, by a clergyman with whom she had apparently had only casual social contact, James Hackman.

It was an enjoyable, informative read, although not, it seems to me, quite so astonishingly original as some of the reviews, particularly the Observer's, suggested. It does, however, draw together a wide range of sources in an analytical way.

(That reminds me of one final lovely line from Richard Vinen - "Historians are fond of complimenting each other on their 'mastery of the sources' (as if 'the sources' were a rebellious tribe on the North-West Frontier)." p. 642.)

One thing that is striking in reading Sentimental Murder is how often the same debates come around again and again.

"One critic of the 'new journalism' complained to the Morning Post:

The Political Controvery at the beginning of the Present reign [George III's], taught printers to feel their Power: we then first find Personal Abuse, unrestrained, stalk abroad, and boldly attacked by Name the most respectable Characters. Your brethren were not idle in taking the hint: from that Period we find a material change in the stile of every News-Paper; every Public Man became an object of their attention; and many a sixpence has a Patriot earned, by Paragraphs, which a few years before, would have brought the Printer unpitied to the Pillory." p. 42

Sunday, October 03, 2004

The sad, the bad and the ugly

Vinen also has a lovely line in anecdote. A few examples:
Talking about the start of the 20th century: "In Germany, and especially in Prussia, ... a tough police force, composed largely of former army sergeants, enforced a ferocious penal code; in Berlin, even the length of hatpins was regulated by law." p. 45

In the Great War, "During a single night in the Carpathian mountains, a Croat regiment lost 1,800 men to hypothermia." p. 56.

And the one that really got me thinking about the dangers of "family" campaigners: "... the natalist policies of the Vichy government. Subsidies were given to women with children and better child-care facilities were provided, while penalties for abortion were tightened. In 1943, a woman was guillotined for having carried out an abortion." p. 149 (There no footnote on that one; anyone know any more about the case?)

Finally an interesting conclusion about WWI:
"It was the 'primitive' peasant populations of eastern Europe who behaved most rationally -- they deserted, allowed themselves to be taken prisoner or mutined. The fact that the war proved so long and so destructive was the result of the 'sophistication' of western European societies." p. 54.

A timely quote

More from Richard Vinen:

In economic terms, the Thatcherite revolution benefited the young, the highly educated and the rich. Yet the rank and file Conservative Party members were old (their average age was sixty-two), poorly educated (over half of them had left school at or before the age of sixteen) and poor (six in ten had an annual income of less than £20,000). In the early 1990s, the rank and file members of the British Conservative Party -- bitter, xenophobic victims of a revoltuion that their own leaders had started -- bore a startling resemblence to members of the Russian Communist Party." (p. 548)

The real 20th century

Definitely the best of my holiday reading was Richard Vinen's A History in Fragments: Europe in the Twentieth Century, which attempts to tell an even account of the history of the entire continent, not, as is traditional in most western European historiography, one focused on Britain/France/Germany, which produces an inevitable emphasis on the two "world" wars (in which for example Spain did not take part).
While the issue of "European refugees" is usually seen as a WWII and post-war problem, he points out:

There were 9.5 million refugees in Europe in 1926. One and a half million people were forcibly exchanged between Greece and Turkey; 280,000 were exchanged between Greece and Bulgaria; 2 million Poles were uprooted from their homes, as were 2 million Russians and Ukranians, 250,000 Hungarians and 1 million Germans. p.210

He has a lovely line in dry sarcasm, e.g. talking about "analysts in the 1950s" who had a view on women's tendency to vote more often for right-wing parties.
Emphasis on [women's] false consciousness is deceptive, because it implies that the male working class had a 'true consciousness' of its interests. In fact, as it turned out, the vision of the future held out by the 'press du coeur' was slightly more realistic thatn that held out by Humanite (some secretaries did marry millionaires, but no western European country experienced a proletarian revolution)." p. 380.

He also raises some interesting questions: "How does one compare the benefits of a laptop computer, which most bourgeois Europeans take for granted now, with those of a well-trained parlour maid, which most bourgeois Europeans took for granted in Keynes's day?" p. 632.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

A useful quickie ...

... from the several hundred emails I'm hacking through after a week away.

A subscription to the new Dictionary of National Biography online costs several hundred pounds (and I can't wait to get to the British Library to check out all of my key characters), but if you can't justify that you can get a daily email, free, from here.

That Eureka moment

Yep, I'm back, and I was very good: I stayed away from blogging all week. I do think holidays are meant for getting away from it all.

Tonight, having arrived back in bleak rainy London, having had a wrestle at the door of my flats with a guy pushing his way in through the security door, having called the cops and after I'd spelt out the address three times giving up on them, I thought I'd share the "eureka" moment of my holiday. It was a very small thing, but I enjoyed it.

Walking along the beach at La Grau du Roi (near Montpellier)I came across what looked very like the shell of a land snail, but it had obviously been washed up from the sea. Eureka I thought, for it exactly matched an image on a replica of a 1,500BC Mycenaean cup with which I have been doing handling at the British Museum (with the Troy exhibition, now concluded). When we were doing the training, the image of snail was pointed out (together with the more prominent octopus and dolphins), and I'd thought "sea-snails, uh?"

You don't get shells like these in Australia, so it seemed odd, but like many things you'd like to understand but never get around to exploring, it had passed me by. Now here was the answer under my feet.

Sorry if it doesn't sound very exciting, perhaps you had to be there. Since you weren't, however, you might like to explore all about snails at this site.

I can't point you to a picture of the cup itself, but if you want to see some lovely Mycenaean things here's a nice place to start.

P.S. Yes I had a lovely holiday and I'm sure London will look better in the morning.