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

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

18. (i) Skirting controversy

The author of the article INDIA, a high-ranking public servant of Empire, who joyfully assayed the quality and value of its coronal gem, nonetheless lamented, as we have seen, the erosion of a culture rich in its own arts and crafts, acknowledging that it had preceded and been emulated by Britain in developing the textiles trade; so fore-shadowing some of the motivating sentiments that later propelled Gandhi in his fight to end the Raj. This brings to mind George Orwell's opinion of Rudyard Kipling, that, whatever his faults, no writer in English ever brought the Indian world of his time alive to the same degree, and if we dismiss a writer because of the 'side' that they are on, it is very much to our loss.

The contributors to the ninth edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica broadly share a common background. Or indeed narrowly share - a very large proportion of them being academics from Scottish universities. However subject to exception, it is not inconceivable that there might be some justice in a preconceived notion of, let us say, a degree of conformity to certain expectations of the world view of a Victorian academic.

There is at least one article in the Ninth which stands out as being, frankly, inexcusably of its time. It makes explicit a certain attitude and widely held belief in what we may as well here clarify, in its own terms, as the white Anglo-Saxon world, and not, sadly, without its relevance today. As a matter of historical record, the essay NEGRO, by A. H. Keane, gives a stark, explicit and as such perhaps disturbing insight into the philosophy expounding the inferiority of people of African descent.

The enterprising chap responsible for , has this to say on the matter:

I came across this article about a year ago and it has caused me a lot of concern. Some articles (e.g. SLAVERY) do talk occasionally of "inferior" races but the NEGRO article really goes a lot further than that -- you could just imagine it being gleefully quoted by rightwing extremists in online forums. You can see the article dates from the time of Gobineau.

I had been thinking of either not publishing the article at all or just publishing some of the paragraphs as JPG images (so they would not get indexed by the search engines).

Could another strategy be an adaptation of that which used to be employed by the Loeb bilingual editions of Latin and Greek classics ( In the early 20th century, Loeb used to translate certain passages into another classical language rather than into English. For example, the Greek romance, Daphnis and Chloe, by Longus, was mostly translated into English on each facing page, but had its more explicit erotic passages translated into Latin rather than English.( )

The author of NEGRO was Augustus Henry Keane, F.R.G.S., Emeritus Professor of Hindustani, University College, London; late Vice President, Anthropological Institute; author of Stanford's Asia, Africa, Ethnology; Man, Past and Present; etc. I have uploaded a couple of other articles by him to the website, including YORUBA . The latter article (e.g. the final three paragraphs) is, comparatively, more moderate in tone.

I share these concerns. Google checks have made clear that its noxious passages are not floating about in the ether of Interwebshire, and have yet to be quoted and bandied about by peddlers of hate and ignorance: I don't relish the notion of being responsible for that eventuality, or the possibility that certain words and phrases might result in an unwholesome growth of traffic to this rarely-trod corner.

All this said, I will endeavour to dismantle this particular piece of writing, in my usual cheerfully flippant and selective manner. I may be less generous than usual in the servings of direct quotation than if the subject matter were something more innocuous (such as the correct usage of the word Abracadabra). For all this hesitation, I continue to subscribe to the philosophy that truth is better perceived with open eyes; the original entry is always worth reading in full. For the time being, this may require getting thee to an actual library somewhereabouts, and manhandling the volume concerned, perhaps whilst shaking your head and tut-tutting concernedly.

Monday, 19 May 2008

17. What I have learned this weekend

The Clavicle, or Collar Bone, is an elongated bone which extends from the upper end of the sternum horizontally outwards, to articulate with the acromion process of the scapula. It presents a strong sigmoidal curve, which is associated with the transverse and horizontal direction of the axis of the human shoulder. It is slender in the female, but powerful in muscular males [...]. The clavicle is absent in the hoofed quadrupeds, in the seals and whales, and is feeble in the carnivora ; but it is well formed, not only in man, but in apes, bats, and in many rodents and insectivora.

(From ANATOMY, by Sir William Turner, M.B., F.R.S., Professor of Anatomy in the University of Edinburgh, in vol. 1 of the 9th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1875)

As the derivation of the term implies, the chief component parts of this machine consist of two wheels. The word is applied to those two-wheeled machines which have been brought to their present state of perfection for human locomotion during the past five years.

[...] There being no lateral support to the machine, the first thing to be learned is balancing, after which it is best to begin riding down a gentle gradient without using the treadles [...] Falls are inevitable at first, and they are best avoided by slightly turning the driving-wheel in the direction the machine is inclining, not the contrary way.

(From BICYCLE, uncredited, EB9 vol 3, 1875)

A bone may be broken at the part where it is struck, or it may break in consequence of a strain applied to it. In the former case the fracture is generally transverse and in the latter more or less oblique in direction.

(From SURGERY, by John Chiene, M.D., Professor of Surgery, University of Edinburgh ; Charles Creighton, M.A., M.D. ; F. M. Caird, M.B., C.M. ; and Prof. A. W. Hare, M.B., Owens College, Manchester, EB9 vol 22, 1887)

If we consider our mental condition as regards sensation at any moment, we notice numerous sensations more or less definite, [...] such as a feeling of general comfort, free or impeded breathing, hunger, thirst, malaise, horror, fatigue, and pain. These are all caused by the irritation of ordinary sensory nerves in different localities, and if the irritation of such nerves, by chemical, thermal, mechanical, or nutritional stimuli, passes beyond a certain maximum point of intensity, the result is pain. [...] The intensity of pain depends upon the degree of excitability of the sensory nerves, whilst its massiveness depends upon the number of nerve fibres affected. The quality of the pain is probably produced by the kind of irritation of the nerve, as affected by the structure of the part and the greater or less continuance of severe pressure. Thus there are piercing, cutting, boring, burning, throbbing, pressing, gnawing, dull, and acute varieties of pain.

(From TOUCH, by J. G. M'Kendrick, M.D., LL.D., F.R.S., Professor of the Institutes of Medicine, University of Glasgow, EB9 vol 23, 1888)

Thursday, 15 May 2008

16. Admirable diversions

Do you know the difference between your minstrels and your bards, your bufos and your troubadours, your gleemen and your joglars? There are a number of articles in EB9 which might educate you to better classify your itinerant musicians. One of the more concise is MINSTREL, by William Minto, M.A., Professor of English Language at the University of Aberdeen.

The "minstrels," according to Bishop Percy, "were an order of men in the Middle Ages who united the arts of poetry and music, and sang verses to the harp of their own composing, who appear to have accompanied their songs with mimicry and action, and to have practised such various means of diverting as were much admired in those rude times [...]."

Minto opens with this description from Reliques of Ancient Poetry - the source of the popular associations with the term 'minstrel' that appealed to the 19th century medievalist. An erroneous association:

The imagination was fascinated by this romantic figure, and the laborious and soured antiquary Ritson argued in vain that nobody before Bishop Percy had ever applied the word minstrel to such an order of men, that no such order of men ever did exist in England, and that the historical English "minstrels," so-called, were a much less gifted and respectable class, being really instrumental musicians, either retainers or strollers.

Why is it that no one ever listens to laborious and soured antiquaries? Is a little precision too much to ask for when speaking of past times and peoples?

[T]here can be little doubt that Ritson was substantially right [...]. The romantic bishop transferred to the English minstrel the social status and brilliant gifts of the Anglo-Saxon gleoman or scop, and the French troubadour in the flourishing period of Provencal poetry. That the gleemen sang to the harp verses of their own composing, that some of them travelled from court to court as honoured guests, while others were important attached court officials, and all received costly presents, is a well attested historical fact. [...] [A] successful gleeman was as much honoured as a modern poet-laureate, and as richly rewarded as a fashionable prima donna.

11th to 13th century Provence was definitely the place to go for a colourful variety of peripatetic musical entertainment. French joglars, we are informed, closest resemble the ideal of the English minstrel: they "played, sang, recited, conjured, [were] men of versatile powers of entertainment, who performed at the houses of the nobility, and were liberally renumerated[.]" Above the joglar, we have the lofty trobadors, "whose distinction it was to compose verses, whether or not they had sufficient executive faculty to sing or recite them." At the bottom of the heap, but surely most appealing of all, were the bufos "who strolled among the common people, singing ribald songs, showing feats of skill and strength, exhibiting learned dogs and goats, and so forth[.]" Messieurs et Mesdames, voila Hugo! La chevre le plus intelligent! Encroyable.

Whilst medieval England was sadly bereft of such sparkling diversions: do not despair, ye would-be beholder of marvels, if you live in Australia, Britain or the United States, because the spirit of the Bufo and the Joglar is very much alive, in the personages of modern-day minstrels Mike West and Katie Euliss, performing across these continents in the course of perpetual wanderings, as Truckstop Honeymoon. By a most happy coincidence they will be taking to a tiered stage in the bowels of a converted Norwegian fishing boat moored at Canning Dock, Liverpool, on Thursday 22nd May, 2008. I am reliably informed that admission to this splendid occasion, widely touted as the principle cultural event in the city's European Capital of Culture year, will cost a mere £5. Exhibition of a learned goat between musical sets has not yet been confirmed.

Monday, 12 May 2008

15. What is their value as pulp?

Recently dug up this question from Yahoo! Answers:

Eddie: I have a full set of 1884 Encyclopedia Britannica, does anyone know the value of them?

Best Answer:

Dave: I would say that considering the advent of the Internet since 1984 and the fact that much of the information is outdated or incomplete, they would be difficult to give away. Not trying to be mean, just rational.

Eddie: Yes i think your right.

I guess the 'incomplete' information is a reference to the fact that history still hadn't ended by publication ("Dude, this so-called encyclopedia totally has nothing in it about Korn or even Green Day. Lame!"). Well, Dave is not trying to be mean (although he still totally blows), and he is in fact entirely correct that an EB9 would be difficult to give away, but gentlemen, please, in spite of everything the internet has achieved since 1984, you are referring to the GREATEST, MOST SCHOLARLY WORK OF REFERENCE YET COMPILED. One day, thanks to the work of stalwarts such as the philanthropists at, the knowledge in the 9th Edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica will finally all be digitalised and available to fingers that have never left their grubby marks on the pages of an actual book, but that glorious day is, as of the time of writing, still some time off. Until then there will be ACTUAL INFORMATION contained within those dusty pages that CANNOT YET BE FOUND in interwebshire. Some might go so far as to say that even when that day does finally come, there might still be some value, even beyond the merely monetary, in having one of those weighty volumes resting open in your lap.

Friday, 9 May 2008

14. The invasion of purity


The action for seduction of an unmarried woman in England stands in a somewhat anomalous position. The theory of English law is that the woman herself has suffered no wrong ; the wrong has been suffered by the parent or the person in loco parentis, who must sue for the damage arising for the loss of service caused by the seduction of the woman. Some evidence of service must be given, but very slight evidence will be sufficient. Although the action is nominally for loss of service, still exemplary damages may be given for the dishonour of the plaintiff's family beyond recompense for the mere loss of service. An action for seduction cannot be brought in the county court except by agreement of the parties. As to seduction of a married woman, the old action for criminal conversation was abolished by the Divorce Act, 1857, which substituted for it a claim for damages against the co-respondent in a divorce suit.Seduction in England is not as a rule a criminal offence. But a conspiracy to seduce is indictable at common law. And the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1885 (which extends to the United Kingdom), makes it a felony to seduce a girl between thirteen and sixteen (48 and 49 Vict. c. 69, SS 4, 5). The same Act also deals severely with the cognate offences of procuration, abduction, and unlawful detention with the intent to seduce a woman of any age. In Scotland, the seduced woman may sue on her own account.

United States.-In the United States State legislation has generally modified the common law. In some States the father brings an action as the representative of the family whose purity has been invaded ; in others the woman herself may bring the action. In many States there is a criminal as well as a civil remedy. The penal codes of New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, and other States make it a crime to seduce under promise of marriage an unmarried woman of good reputation. Subsequent intermarriage of the parties is in most cases a bar to criminal proceedings. Massachusetts goes still further. By the law of that State if a man commits fornication wityh a single woman, each of them shall be punished by imprisonment not exceeding three months, or by fine not exceeding $30. The seduction of a female passenger on a vessel of the United States is an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment. The fine may be ordered by the court to be paid to the person seduced or her child (Act of Congress of 24th March 1860). The State legislation of the United States is in remarkable opposition to the rule of the canon law, by which the seduction of a woman by her betrothed was not punishable on account of the inchoate right given over her person given by the betrothal.

(from volume 21 of the 9th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, published 1886.)

Monday, 5 May 2008

13. Prostrated in mind, body, by sunstroke, and in the dust

Communications from the 9th Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica community of enthusiasts have enlightened me to usage of the extremely convenient EB9 abbreviation in reference to the object of our fascination, and I will henceforth endeavour to bandy the term liberally throughout these postings.

The author of the lyrics of the rousingly patriotic Rule Britannia, was the Scotsman James Thomson (1700-1748). Cheery national fervour notwithstanding, Thomson was no stranger to melancholy. EB9 informs us that it was
while he lingered in the neighbourhood of Barnet, without employment, without money, with few friends, saddened by the loss of his mother (his father had died when he was eighteen), that Thomson conceived the idea of his first poems on the season, Winter. The lines-

Welcome, kindred glooms,
Congenial horrors, hail!

came from the heart ; they expressed his own forlorn mood on the approach of the winter of 1725. Winter appeared in the spring of 1726. [...] The tradition is that it attracted no notice for a month, but that, at the end of that time, a literary clergyman, Whately, chanced to take it up from a bookseller's counter, and at once rushed off to the coffee-houses to proclaim the discovery of a new poet.

It is a sad reflection of our times that literary clergymen are rarely now to be seen rushing into coffee-houses to proclaim similar revelations, or that if they do, the modern Briton would hardly be roused from his mochaccino and sudoku to notice.

When it comes to the inspirational power of misery, THOMSON, James (1700-1748) is somewhat overshadowed by THOMSON, James (1834-1882), author of The City of Dreadful Night
born at Port Glasgow, in Renfrewshire, the eldest child of a mate in the shipping service. His mother was a deeply religious woman of the Irvingite sect, and it is not improbable that it was from her the son inherited his sombre and imaginative temperament. On her death, James, then in his seventh year, was procured admission into the Caledonian Orphan Asylum, from which he went out into the world as an assistant army schoolmaster. At the garrison at Ballincollig, near Cork, he encountered the one brief happiness of his life : he fell passionately in love with, and was in turn as ardently loved by, the daughter of the armourer-sergeant of a regiment in the garrison, a girl of very exceptional beauty and cultivated mind. Two years later, when Thomson was at the training college at Chelsea, he suddenly received news of her fatal illness and death. The blow prostrated him in mind and body ; and the former endured a hurt from which it never really recovered. Henceforth his life was one of gloom, disappointment, misery, and poverty, rarely alleviated by episodes of somewhat brighter fortune.

[...] In 1872 Thomson went to the Western States of America, as the agents of shareholders in what he ascertained to be a fraudulent silver mine ; and the following year he received a commission from The New York World to go to Spain as its special correspondent with the Carlists. During the two months of his stay in that distracted country he saw little real fighting, and was himself prostrated by a sunstroke.

[..] All his best work was produced between 1855 and 1875 ("The Doom of a City," 1857 ; "Our Ladies of Death," 1861 ; Weddah and Om-el-Bonain : "The Naked Goddess," 1866-7 ; The City of Dreadful Night, 1870 - 74). In his latter years Thomson too often sought refuge from his misery of mind and body in the Lethe of opium and alcohol. His mortal illness came upon him in the house of a poet friend ; and he was conveyed to University College hospital, in Gower Street, where shortly after he died (June 3, 1882). He was buried at Highgate cemetary, in the same grave, in unconsecrated ground, as his friend Austin Holyoake.

Anyone as unfamiliar as I was until today with the work of this unfortunate poet, will be richly rewarded by a reading of his great work, which these opening verses amply testify:

LO, thus, as prostrate, “In the dust I write
My heart’s deep languor and my soul’s sad tears.”
Yet why evoke the spectres of black night
To blot the sunshine of exultant years?
Why disinter dead faith from mouldering hidden?
Why break the seals of mute despair unbidden,
And wail life’s discords into careless ears?

Because a cold rage seizes one at whiles
To show the bitter old and wrinkled truth
Stripped naked of all vesture that beguiles,
False dreams, false hopes, false masks and modes of youth;
Because it gives some sense of power and passion
In helpless innocence to try to fashion
Our woe in living words howe’er uncouth.