The world as seen through the clarifying lens of the 9th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1875-1889).

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

41. Dr. Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard University was a plagiarist

Wherever possible, it is the object of this blog to afford its readers a fuller understanding of the great issues of our times, through resort to the learned and precise sages employed by the offices of Adam and Charles Black.

"DANCE. The term dancing in its widest sense includes three things :-(1) the spontaneous activity of the muscles under the influence of some strong emotion, such as social joy or religious exultation ; (2) definite combinations of graceful movements performed for the sake of the pleasure which the exercise affords to the dancer or to the spectator ; (3) carefully trained movements which are meant by the dancer vividly to represent the actions and passions of other people."

Beloved quondam BBC chief political correspondent John Sargeant's Saturday night TV performances might never be agreed to be graceful, that their object was the pleasure of dancer and spectator both is beyond refute.

To digress briefly, in "Amo, Amas, Amat... And All That," author Harry Mount derides the use of 'quondam' in place of the plain English 'former' (by Chris Patten, the erstwhile Governor of Hong Kong) as wankerish, which it may indeed be, but I found this particular example a bit odd coming from a proselytizing classicist. Pompously obscuring otherwise straightforward statements must ever be the most entertaining use that a half-remembered smattering of Latin can be put to : 'quondam,' however, is surely not even that obscure, generally guessable from context, and found in most dictionaries of English.

Returning to DANCE, it may be akin to the hypothetical balletic dissertation concerning architecture, but at least W. C. Smith, LL. B., writes with a grace and measure appropriate to his subject.

"If the steps of dancing and the intervals of time be not precisely equal, there is still a pleasure depending on the gradually increasing intensity of motion, on the undulation which uniformly rises in order to fall. As Florizel says to Perdita, "When you dance, I wish you a wave of the sea" (Winter's Tale, iv. 3). The mind feels the beauty of emphasis and cadence in muscular motion, just as much as in musical notes. Then, the figure of the dance is frequently a circle or some more graceful curve or series of curves, -a fact which satisfies the dancer as well as the eye of the spectator. But all such effects are intensified by the use of music, which not only brings a perfectly distinct set of pleasurable sensations to dancer and spectator, but by the control of dancing produces an inexpressibly sweet harmony of sound and motion."

I intended to use that last phrase of W. C. Smith, "An inexpressibly sweet harmony of sound and motion," as the header for this posting. It is my habit, however, to enter a sentence or two of the quoted articles into the Google machine, to see if I am able to direct Accordingianists to the complete original somewhere out in Interwebshire (most usually the Antipodean precincts of the esteemed Imagine my shock and outrage when a search for "perfectly distinct set of pleasurable sensations" dredged up an exact match from the New York Times of January 3rd, and an article "Modern Dance as Athletic Exercise" by Dr Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard University. In a lengthy piece, initial examination only uncovers two sentences cribbed from Britannica by Dr. Sargent, but I find that incriminating enough. The Google also reveals that Sargent was one of the early pioneers of physical education, an anthropometrist, the inventor of much gym equipment still in use today, and his career at Harvard spanned 40 years.

A steady flow of Google-directed traffic to this site suggests that I may be responsible for propagating the knowledge that (to one commentator anyway) George Washington possessed the largest hands ever seen on a man. For the historical record, I would also like it to be known that Dr. Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard University was a plagiarist. Let this serve as a warning to others, that whether justice comes in your own lifetime or 80 years down the line, you may be sure that your sins will find you out, and your name be forever blackened by your perfidy.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

40. Sometimes a morbid kindness

Like many overgrown boys, I thrill to the sensational exploits of television survival artiste Bear Grylls. He may not have the nut-gathering, bucolic charm and authenticity of Ray Mears, but he has a far more rugged name. A recent programme did display a somewhat Morissette-ish tendency in his language, by his declaring how 'ironic' it would be if, after all the lions, tigers and bears he has wrassled with in his career, his life was brought to an untimely end by the toxic sting of a bee. My own feeling is that it would really be far more ironic if Bear choked to death on a pillow mint in one of those luxury hotels he stays in during his extreme adventuring.

I cannot help but wonder if, when he's skinning a skunk or drinking his own piss from a snakeskin, we can't see a certain nameless gleam in Mr Grylls' eyes, as he looks towards his cameraman and solitary companion in the wilds. Have I pushed myself far enough? he seems to be thinking. Is there not a further, more sublime realm of the will to survive yet to be breached? Are there not sweeter meats than raw toad at hand?

"Man, being by nature carnivorous as well as frugivorous, and human flesh being not unfit for human food, the question first arises why mankind have generally not only avoided it, but have looked with horror on exceptional individuals and races addicted to cannibalism. [...]

"The pricipal [causes of infractions of this aversion] have been the pressures of famine, the fury of hatred, and sometimes even a morbid kindness, with certain motives of magic and religion, to which must be added the strong tendency of cannibalism, once started in any of these ways, to develop a confirmed appetite which will afterwards be indulged for its own sake.

"I. Famine.-The records of shipwrecks and sieges prove that famine will sometimes overcome the horror of cannibalism among men of the higher nations. Thus it is not surprising that savages, from their want of food adapted for storing as well as from their reckless improvidence, should in severe climates be often driven to this extremity. For examploe, it is known that the miserable natives of Tierra del Fuego, when starving in winter, would throttle and devour the oldest woman of the party ; when asked why they did not rather kill their dogs, they replied, "Dogs catch otters !"[...]

"III. Morbid Affection.-Cases of the dead being devoured by relatives and friends (especially children by parents) from a sentiment of affection are recorded among low savage tribes [...]. As lately as the 13th century, William of Ruysbruck was told that the people of Tibet had till recently kept up this custom of eating their deceased parents, and still used their skulls as drinking cups [...].

"IV. Magic.-Few notions belonging to primitive savage magic are more intelligible or more widely spread than the belief that the qualities of any animal eaten will pass into the eater. [...]An English merchant in Shanghai, during the Taeping siege, met his Chinese servant carrying the heart of a rebel, which he was taking home to eat to make him brave [...].

"V. Religion.-One of the strongest reasons for considering anthropophagy as having widely prevailed in prehistoric ages is the fact of its being deeply ingrained in savage and barbaric religions, whose gods are so often looked upon as delighting in human flesh and blood. The flesh of sacrificed human victims may even serve to provide cannibal feasts. The understood meaning of these rites may be either that the bodies of the victims are vicariously consumed by the worshippers, or that the gods themselves feed on the spirits of the slain men, their bodies being left to the priests and people. [...]

"VI. Habit.-The extent to which anthropophagy has been carried among some nations is, no doubt, mainly due to the indulgence of the appetite once aroused. In such cases this reason is openly avowed, or some earlier motive remains rather in pretext than in reality, or the practice is justified on the ground of ancestral custom. It seems, for instance, that the cannibal feasts of old Mexico had become in themselves acceptable to the people, and that we must refer the sickening horrors of Fijian anthropophagy more to sensual gratification than to any religious motive. [...]

" As to the history of anthropophagy, the most interesting question is whether at any early period it was ever a general habit of the human race. [...]It has been well argued that had the men of the quaternary period been cannibals, we should find the bones generally cracked for the marrow like those of beasts, which is not the case [...].The discovery of some few ancient human remains, the state of which seems to indicate that the flesh had been eaten, may perhaps be taken to show that prehistoric savages were in this respect like those of modern times, neither free from cannibalism nor universally practising it. During later ages, it may have even increased rather than diminished with the growth of population,—its greatest excesses being found among high savage tribes or nations above the savage level. But with the rise of civilization to its middle and upper levels, it is more and more kept down by the growing sense of the dignity of man, and eventually disappears, as we may hope, irrevocably."

(From the article CANNIBALISM by Edward Burnett Tylor, LL.D., D.C.L., F.R.S., Keeper of the University Museum, Oxford. Find this article in full at

Incidentally, what a great and innocuous-seeming word Anthropophagy is. My advice to the likes of Herr Miewes, wishing to avoid the inevitable stigma and social baggage associated with the terms 'cannibal' and 'man-eater,' would be to introduce themselves as an anthropophagist and move quickly on to the subject of what an astounding fellow that Born Survivor chap is.
[This post has been edited for added Bear Grylls content]

Thursday, 6 November 2008

39. Mental perturbations and the emergencies of intellectual combat

I am indebted to the kind and indiscriminate praise of Chessbumbus for reminding me of the ninth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica's very fine article on the subject of the game of kings. W. Norwood Porter's introduction is a masterly opening, and be you not stricken by obstinacy, indolence, or self-esteem, you should find it instructive, and a balm to the troubles of your cerebral organ.

CHESS, simply defined, is an intellectual pastime. It recreates not so much by way of amusement properly sо termed, аs by taking possession of the mental faculties and diverting them from their accustomed grooves. The cerebral organ, after being much occupied in business, or greatly worried by cares, or in any way beset by painful reflections, finds in the absorbing and abstracting properties of chess that temporary relief which lighter pastimes will not always afford. The reason of this is not far to seek. Cares are caused by looking forward to or apprehending things to come, and, as such, are neutralized by that foresight which the conduct of a game of chess demands. Again, mental perturbations, however much varied, can but be the employment of the imagining and reasoning faculties in the digestion of the particular cause of annoyance or pain ; but these same faculties are required, and their exclusive exercise demanded, in providing for the emergencies of the intellectual combat, and in solving the ever varying problems that arise in the course thereof. It is very commonly supposed that chess is a difficult game, whether to acquire or practise. This, however, is a mistake. The moves may be learned in half an hour, and a week's practice will evoke a sufficient amount of skill to afford pleasure both to the learner and his tutor. The intelligent novice will soon be convinced that an ignorant manipulation of the pieces does not conduce to success, and he will seek for instruction in the right manner of opening the game ; the various débuts are after all simple, and he will find no difficulty in acquiring them one after the other. Six months will suffice for this purpose if his understanding be not enslaved by obstinacy, indolence, or self-esteem, and the rest goes with his natural capacity. A merely average intelligence is sufficient for a very fair amount of proficiency and strength ; while intellect not much above the common mean will suffice (assuming here natural aptitude) to lead right up to the second class of players, viz., those to whom the masters of the game can only concede tho small odds of "pawn and move." Those wishing to improve will find it very beneficial to play upon even terms with players stronger than themselves ; for a persistence in taking odds, besides having a discouraging and debilitating effect upon the weaker player, takes the game out of its proper grooves, and tends to produce positions not naturally arising in the ordinary course of the game as developed from the recognized openings. In fact, the reception of odds incapacitates a player from acquiring an insight into the principles of the science of chess, and from comprehending the latent meanings and conceptions upon which combinations and a proper plan of warfare are founded ; while, upon the contrary, playing on even terms throws the combatant at once upon his own judgment, and by causing him to study his opponent's play, leads necessarily to a material improvement in his own style."

I must confess that the the old cerebral organ experienced difficulty with the sentence : Again, mental perturbations, however much varied, can but be the employment of the imagining and reasoning faculties in the digestion of the particular cause of annoyance or pain ; but these same faculties are required, and their exclusive exercise demanded, in providing for the emergencies of the intellectual combat, and in solving the ever varying problems that arise in the course thereof.

But I liked it very much.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

38. ii) Let us have faith that right makes might

John G. Nicolay provides a comprehensive biography of the celebrated Illinois lawyer, rail-splitter, and chicken-fight judge, which can only be done full justice by being read in full. I would then direct the curious to peruse your local library for a copy of Gore Vidal's Lincoln (presumably to be shortly reprinted if Mr Spielberg gets round to directing Liam Neeson in a cinematic adaptation), and to download the electronic text of Alexander K. McClure's Lincoln's Yarns and Stories: a complete collection of the funny and witty anecdotes that made Lincoln famous as America's greatest story teller.

As is standard practice in EB9's biographical essays, Nicolay's piece closes with a portrait of its subject, and is one of the more compelling examples of its kind. There might be more argument in Lincoln's case than Washington's as to whether events may have reached a more or less satisfactory conclusion in his absence, but even his sternest critics must concede that he was a man of unique ability, and who faced the challenges of his duty with unparalleled energy and dedication. At the very least, if cornball humour combined with a deep and brooding melancholy is your thing, then Lincoln, of all great men of history, is surely the most deserving of a place as a guest at one of those hypothetical dinner parties of the ages. I think I would probably seat him next to Richard Madely.

"President Lincoln was of unusual stature, 6 feet 4 inches, and of spare but muscular build ; he had been in youth remarkably strong and skilful in the athletic games of the frontier, where, however, his popularity and recognized impartially oftener made him an umpire than a champion. He had regular and prepossessing features, dark complexion, broad high forehead, prominent cheek bones, grey deep-set eyes, and bushy black-hair, turning to grey at the time of his death. Abstemious in his habits, he possessed great physical endurance. He was almost as tender-hearted as a woman. "I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom," he was able to say. His patience was inexhaustible. He had naturally a most cheerful and sunny temper, was highly social and sympathetic, loved pleasant conversation, wit, anecdote, and laughter. Beneath this, however, ran an undercurrent of sadness ; he was occasionally subject to hours of deep silence and introspection that approached a condition of trance. In manner he was simple, direct, void of the least affectation, and entirely free from awkwardness, oddity, or eccentricity. His mental qualities were—a quick analytic perception, strong logical power, a tenacious memory, a liberal estimate and tolerance of the opinions of others, ready intuition of human nature ; and perhaps his most valuable faculty was rare ability to divest himself of all feeling or passion in weighing motives of persons or problems of state. His speech and diction were plain, terse, forcible. Relating anecdotes with appreciative humour and fascinating dramatic skill, he used them freely and effectively in conversation and argument. He loved manliness, truth, and justice. He despised all trickery and selfish greed. In arguments at the bar he was so fair to his opponent that he frequently appeared to concede away his client’s case. He was ever ready to take blame on himself and bestow praise on others. "I claim not to have controlled events," he said, "but confess plainly that events have controlled me." The Declaration of Independence was his political chart and inspiration. He acknowledged a universal equality of human rights. "Certainly the negro is not our equal in colour," he said, "perhaps not in many other respects; still, in the right to put his mouth the bread that his own hands have earned, he is the equal of every other man white or black." He had unchanging faith in self-government. "The people," he said, "are the rightful masters of both congresses and courts, not to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the constitution." Yielding and accommodating in non-essentials, he was inflexibly firm in a principle or position deliberately taken. "Let us have faith that right makes might," he said, "and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it." The emancipation proclamation once issued, he reiterated his purpose never to retract or modify it. "There have been men base enough," he said, "to propose to me to return to slavery our black warriors of Port Hudson and Olustee, and thus win the respect of the masters they fought. Should I do so, I should deserve to be damned in time and eternity. Come what will, I will keep my faith with friend and foe." Benevolence and forgiveness were the very basis of his character ; his world-wide humanity is aptly embodied in a phrase of his second inaugural : "With malice toward none, with charity for all." His nature was deeply religious, but the belonged to no denomination ; he had faith in the eternal justice and boundless mercy of Providence, and made the golden rule of Christ his practical creed. History must accord him a rare sagacity in guiding a great people through the perils of a mighty revolution, an admirable singleness of aim, a skilful discernment and courageous seizure of the golden moment to free his nation from the incubus of slavery, faithful adherence to law and conscientious moderation in the use of power, a shining personal example of honesty and purity, and finally the possession of that subtle and indefinable magnetism by which he subordinated and directed dangerously disturbed and perverted moral and political forces to the restoration of peace and constitutional authority to his country, and the gift of liberty to four millions of human beings. Architect of his own fortunes, rising with every opportunity, mastering every emergency, fulfilling every duty, he not only proved himself pre-eminently the man for the hour, but the signal benefactor of posterity. As statesman, ruler, and liberator civilization will hold his name in perpetual honour."

Monday, 3 November 2008

38. i) The largest hands ever seen on a man

The heart of Barleycorn Towers is set to glow with the unearthly radiance of the cathode-ray tube throughout Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, as the presidential contest in our former colonies is followed through all the baroque twists and turns of its final, decisive (barring lawyerly appeals to the Supreme Court) hours. What better way to join the frenzy of excitement than by taking a look at the ninth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica's portraits of some of the more notable past occupants of the throne of democracy? And where better to begin than with the wooden-toothed and giant-handed father of the nation himself?

"WASHINGTON, GEORGE (1732-1799), the first president of the United States, was born in Westmoreland county, Virginia, February 22 (Old Style, Feb. 11), 1732. One lawless genealogist has traced his ancestry back to Odin. [...]

"[H]is diaries show comparatively little reading, a minutely methodical conduct of business, a wide acquaintance with the leading men of the country, but no strong indications of what is usually considered to be "greatness." As in the case of Lincoln, he was educated into greatness by the increasing weight of his responsibilities and the manner in which he met them. [...]

"It is not easy to see how Washington survived the year 1775 ; the colonial poverty, the exasperating annoyances, the selfishness or stupidity which cropped out again and again from the most patriotic of his coadjutors, were enough to have broken down most men. They completed his training. The change in this one winter is very evident. If he was not a great man when he went to Cambridge, he was a general and a statesman in the best sense when he the British out of Boston in March 1776. From that time until his death he was the foremost man of the continent. [...]

"When the Federal Convention met at Philadelphia in May 1787 to frame the present constitution he was present as a delegate from Virginia, though much against his will; and a unanimous vote at once made him its presiding officer. He took no part in the debates, however, beyond such suggestive hints as his proposal to amend a restriction of the standing army to 5000 men by forbidding any enemy to invade the United States with more than 3000. He approved the constitution which was decided upon, believing, as he said, "that it was the best constitution which could be obtained at that epoch, and that this or a dissolution awaits our choice, and is the only alternative." [...]

" All the accounts agree that Washington was of imposing presence. He measured just 6 feet when prepared for burial ; but his height in his prime, as given in his orders for clothes from London, was 3 inches more. La Fayette says that his hands were "the largest he ever saw on a man." Custis says that his complexion was "fair, but considerably florid," His weight was about 220 lb. The various and widely-differing portraits of him find exhaustive treatment in the seventh volume of Winsor’s Narrative and Critical History of the United States. The editor thinks that "the favourite profile has been unquestionably Houdon’s, with Stuart’s canvas for the full face, and probably Trumbull’s for the figure." Stuart’s face, however, gives the popular notion of Washington, though it has always been a subject of curious speculation to some minds how much of the calm and benign expression of the face was due to the shape of Washington’s false teeth. [...]

"Washington’s disorder was an aedematous affection of the wind-pipe, contracted by careless exposure during a ride in a snow-storm, and aggravated by neglect afterwards, and by such contemporary remedies as excessive bleeding, gargles of "molasses, vinegar, and butter" and "vinegar and sage tea," which "almost suffocated him," and a blister of cantharides on the throat. He died without theatrical adieus ; his last words were only business directions, affectionate remembrances to relatives, and repeated apologies to the physicians and attendants for the trouble he was giving them. Just before he died, says his secretary, Mr Lear, he felt own pulse ; his countenance changed ; the attending physicians placed his hands over the eyes of the dying man, "and he expired without a struggle or a sigh.""

This article, by Alex. Johnston, Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Economy, Princeton College, N. J., is available in its entirety at

Sunday, 2 November 2008

37. The age of blocking : when any neat-handed man could print for himself

"In Europe, as late as the second half of the14th century, every book (including school and prayer books), and every public and private document, proclamation, bull, letter, &c., was written by hand ; all figures and pictures, even playing-cards and images of saints, were drawn with the pen or painted with a brush."

J. H. Hessels, M. A. writes these words in his history of TYPOGRAPHY, as an introduction to the rather complex issue of the invention of printing in Europe. Hessels acknowledges that print had already existed for over a millennia in China and the East, but makes a clear case that the later development in the West was independent of that innovation.

Before the revolutionary introduction of moveable type, printing by use of carved blocks of wood had a growth of popularity across Europe in the late middle ages. The first products of this process were religious texts and playing cards.

"At Bruges printers and beeldemakers (makers, engravers of images) were enumerated in 1454 among the members of the fraternity of St John the Evangelist. The printers of playing cards seem to have constituted a separate class. [...]It seems also certain that wealthy persons and religious institutions were wont to possess sets of blocks, and, when occasion arose, they printed a set of sheets for presentation to a friend, or in the case of monasteries for sale to the passing pilgrim. A printer of briefs or block-books had no need to serve an apprenticeship ; any neat-handed man could print for himself."

Interestingly a large proportion of the block-printed manuscripts that have survived from 15th century Germany are apocalyptic in subject matter : an illustrated text of the writing of John the Evangelist, "The Antichrist (Der Enndchrist)," "The Fifteen Signs of the Last Judgement," and "The Dance of Death (Dance Macabre ; Der Doten Dantz)." Self improvement also figures with "The Ten Commandments for Unlearned People."

The TYPOGRAPHY article continues, including much of interest on the subject of founts and all kinds of matters pertaining to printing, and shows a progression from the earlier rude work to an age of giant presses of great sophistication. There can hardly be a doubt that our word-processing software and laser ink-jet thingumajigs are, although generally smaller and less steam-driven, of a whole other degree of sophistication. Nonetheless, is it an overactive imagination that sees a line of descent from the carvers of wooden blocks, or blockers if you will, through pamphleteers, samizdat and fanzine publishers, to the humble purveyors of opinion and reflection that are free to disseminate their rough-cut, unedited ramblings throughout Interwebshire?

The printed word is not yet dead, but in many aspects, technological innovation threatens to make print redundant. For all my love of the inky page, I have learned the value of reading a book from the two inch screen of an iPod, and find that being able to carry Gibbons' Decline and Fall around in my pocket - and in a format that allows me to make annotations and highlight text at a brush of the finger - makes it considerably less of a priority in these financially-straitened times to seek out a shelf-worth of a print edition (although, if anyone is getting rid...). See the free eReader and Stanza software, and, putting aside the objections to paying good money for a book that only exists as a save file, consider the enormous catalogue of out-of-copyright texts that are there for the taking : for which see the aptly-named Project Gutenberg and as starting points.

The modern publishing world has given us the curious phenomena of the most financially successful writer of stories about boy wizards in human history, actually causing book vendors to lose money hand-over-fist in the competition to garner sales. Interwebshire, on the other hand, gives us the means by which writers, such as the unclassifiable but perhaps not uncertifiable Mr Frank Key, too tangentially bizarre, unless something about this world of ours twists unexpectedly for the better, for two-for-the-price-of-one deals at Waterstones, can infect without hindrance discerning brains, and give incurable page-turners the opportunity (courtesy of to order a print copy of such work as "Unspeakable Desolation Pouring Down From The Stars," "Befuddled by Cormorants" and now "Gravitas, Punctilio, Rectitude & Pippy Bags." Traditional publishing : 0, Elecro-jiggery-pokery : 1.