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

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

20. Lines and phrases of marvellous felicity

Two curious Welsh brothers for today : because they don't make 'em like they did in the 17th century.

VAUGHAN, HENRY (1621-1693), called "the Silurist," poet and mystic, was born into an ancient Welsh family settled at Skethiog-on-Usk, in the parish of Llansaintfraed, Brecknockshire, in 1621. From 1632 to 1638 he and his twin brother Thomas were privately educated by the rector of Llangattock, and then they proceeded to Jesus College, Oxford. At what time Henry left the university is not known ; but it was evidently after he had studied for some time in London and had been introduced into the society of men of letters that he printed his first volume, Poems, with the Tenth Satire of Juvenal Englished (1646). Of this publication he was afterwards, very needlessly, ashamed. Vaughan presently became a physician and returned to his native country, first for a while practising in the town of Brecon, and then settling down for the remainder of his life in Skethiog. From this place he sent forth his collection of sacred poems, Silex Scintillans, in 1650, of which a second part appeared in 1655, and the secular poems of his Olor Iscanus, prepared for the press in 1647, and published without his consent by his brother Thomas in 1651. A mystical treatise in prose, The Mount of Olives, followed in 1652, and then two prose translations, Flores Solitudinis, 1654, and Hermetical Physick, 1655. The world took little notice of these performances. In 1678 an Oxford friend collected the miscellaneous verses of Vaughan's middle life in a volume entitled Thalia Rediviva. Henry Vaughan died at Skethiog on 23d April 1693, and lies buried in the churchyard of Llansaintfraed.

As a poet Vaughan comes latest in the so-caled "metaphysical" school of the 17th century. He is the most remote of the disciples of Donne, and follows him mainly as he saw him reflected in George Herbert. He analyses his experiences, amatory and sacred, with excessive ingenuity, striking out, every now and then, through his extreme intensity of feeling and his close though limited observation of nature, lines and phrases of marvellous felicity. He is of imagination all compact, and is happiest when he abandons himself most completely to his vision. His verse is apt to seem crabbed and untunable in comparison with that of Crashaw, and even of Herbert at his best. The Retreat, with its Wordsworthian intimations, The World, mainly because of the magnificence of its opening lines, and, Beyond the Veil are by far the most popular of Vaughan's poems and represent him at his best. His passion for the Usk, and his desire to immortalize that pastoral river, are pathetically prominent in his writings. His metrical ear was not fine, and he affected, almost more than Herbert himself, tortured and tuneless forms of self-invented stanza.

VAUGHAN, THOMAS (1621-1665), "the Rosicrucian," was the twin brother of Henry VAUGHAN (see above). When Thomas left Oxford he went into the church and became rector of his native parish Llansaintfraed until his ejectment, when he settled at Oxford as an alchemist. He died at Albury on 27th February 1665, poisoned by the fumes of a cauldron. Under the pseudonym of Eugenius Philalethes, Thomas Vaughan produced eleven volumes defending and describing the tenets of Rosicrucians. The titles of these - among which are The Man-Mouse, 1650 ; The Second Wash, 1651 ; The Fame and Confession of the Fraternity of the Rosy Cross, 1652 ; Aula Lucis, 1652 ; and Euphrates, 1653 - are not more extraordinary than their style. Henry More the Platonist engaged in controversy with Thomas Vaughan, deep calling unto deep in pamphlets.

You may judge the marvellous felicity of "The World" for yourself, courtesy of . It begins

I SAW Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright ;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
Driv'n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov'd ; in which the world
And all her train were hurl'd.

FOOTNOTE: Eagle-eyed pedants will have noticed that I have given Thomas Vaughan's date of death as 1665, rather than the 1666 which all other sources in Interwebshire show. Please be assured that I have transcribed diligently, and 1665 is the date given in the 9th Edition. It seems likely that Britannica was, in this unfortunate instance, in error, but the tantalising possibility remains that EB9 got it right, and that later citings have been perpetuating someone else's error. If any Accordingianists happen to be in the vicinity of Albury any time, could you possibly check the parish records (or gravestone if there is one) and clarify this troublesome matter? A substantial reward is on offer (subject to availability: the alternative being an insubstantial reward).

Friday, 13 June 2008

19. One of the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen

Managed to catch Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan before it closed at our local arts cinema last night. I enjoyed the film, although Mongolian members of the Barleycorn family were less impressed. As the title suggests, the film depicts the early life of the great conqueror, for which the source material is the Mongolian Secret History, a carefully guarded historical tradition, which may well be an accurate record of the facts, but being the sole document relating to the period, that isn't something historically knowable. What is unforgivable about the movie to Mongolian thinking is the reinterpretation of those events. Deep offense was caused in Mongolia when news of the central scene, and the director's invention, depicting the mighty Chinggis locked in a cage for the amusement of passers-by, reduced to catching a live bird and eating it raw. This provoked a similar reaction in my wife to the portrayal in Bill and Ted, of Chinggis as a small Chinese savage, with an uncontrollable lust for women and barbecued chicken.

It's a shame because it seems that the director was really doing his best to make a positive portrayal. It is a constant source of aggrievement that Chinggis is always portrayed by a foreigner, from John Wayne and Omar Sharif in Hollywood versions, to the young Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano in the present case. A big budget Japanese production of the story just a couple of years ago opted understandably to use the language of the cast and crew. Which didn't go down well in the homeland, for numerous reasons, not least being that Chinggis is continually addressed by the Japanese word for leader, which unfortunately sounds a local like the Mongolian word 'zugg-cho' : 'waitress'. My wife may deny it at a future date, but after watching Mongol she had been certain that the lead was Mongolian, so was surprised to learn that this wasn't so, and grudgingly conceded that his mastery of the language for his role was impressive. This is nicely emphasised by a scene towards the end when Chinggis eulogises his mother tongue, and predicts that one day the whole world will understand it. [For a Mongolian perspective on the movie, check out this review from the Asian Gypsy blog, with particular emphasis on the film's skewed portrayal of the shamanistic faith of the Mongols, and also an anecdote about a projected Steven Seagal portrayal of Chinggis that sadly failed to materialise.]

The movie of course strikes a poor note for Mongolians with the "Genghis" choice of spelling. I do not know when the soft g became hard in popular speech, but it's an annoyance to his descendants. A lot of Mongolian words are a struggle for the Western tongue, but Chinggis isn't one of them.

The second volume of EB9 contains the article ASIA, which has a succinct summary of his career and the empire he forged, and opts for a spelling notably close to the native pronunciation.

Chenghiz Khan, a Mongolian chief, having made himself master of Central Asia, established his capital at Karakorum, the precise site of which is doubtful. In 1215 he took possession of Northern China, and then turned westward ; he overran the whole of Turkestan, the countries along the Oxus, Afghanistan, and Persia, and added them to his empire. After his death in 1227, his successors, dividing his kingdom among them, continued their advance against the west.

Later, either due to consensus or personal choice, the spelling shifts, so the great man's full biography is found in volume 13.

JENGHIZ KHAN (1162 - 1227) Mongol emperor, was born in a tent on the banks of the river Onon, in 1162.

There's less about the early days than the movie depicted. Whether this is owing to unfamiliarity with the Secret History or a decision to ignore events less likely to have been fact, I do not know. (Apparently the Secret History was rediscovered some time in the 19th Century, I have not yet found a reference to it in EB9, although I have a dim memory that it is lurking in there somewhere). We do get a neat description of Temuchin(ie the young Jenghiz)'s troubled ascension to the head of his tribe:

The death of [his father] Yesukai, which placed Temuchin, who was then only thirteen years, on the Mongol throne, was the signal also for the dispersal of several tribes whose allegiance the old chieftain had retained by the exercise of an iron rule. When remonstrated with by Temuchin on their desertion of his banner, the rebels replied : "The deepest wells are sometimes dry, and the hardest stones are sometimes broken ; why should we cling to thee?"

Robert K Douglas, the author of this article, does himself no favours with my wife by giving the etymology of Jenghiz as deriving from the Chinese Ching-sze, or "perfect warrior." I am informed that this should be from Tengis, a Mongolian word meaning "ocean". I am not in a position to object that the great empire was otherwise notably lacking in any maritime associations.

Jenghiz' great military successes are given some detail in this article (which I ought inform you at this juncture can be read in full at Jenghiz' bold and effective approach to international diplomacy can be well judged from the missive he sent to the chinese Kin Emperor, in order to bring to a swifter end a military campaign that was growing tiresome to him.

"All your possessions in Shan-tung and the whole country north of the Yellow river are now mine with the solitary exception of Yenking (the modern Peking). By the decree of heaven you are now as weak as I am strong, but I am willing to retire from my conquests; as a condition of my doing so, however, it will be necessary that you distribute largess to my officers and men to appease their fierce hostility."

These conditions were wisely accepted by the Kin Emperor. Less wisely he moved his capital to further from the Mongolian border as soon as Jenghiz returned to Mongolia, prompting the conqueror, doubtless with a world-weary shake of the head, to "once more [march] his troops into the doomed empire."

Jenghiz' attempts to conduct his business in a peaceful manner would again and again be confounded. The state of things could not have been put plainer to the Persian Shah:

"I send thee greeting; I know thy power and the vast extent of thine empire ; I regard thee as my most cherished son. On my part thou must know that I have conquered China and all the Turkish nations north of it ; thou knowest that my country is a magazine of warriors, a mine of silver, and that I have no need of other lands. I take it that we have an equal interest in encouraging trade between our subjects."

Unfortunately, after initially accepting these overtures, the Persians found themselves on Jenghiz' bad side, as a result of executing two of his emmisaries as spies.

The invading force was in the first instance divided into armies : one commanded by Jenghiz’s second son Jagatai was directed to march against the Kankalis, the northern defenders of the Khuarezm empire; and the other, led by Juji, his eldest son, advanced by way of Sighnak against Jend.

Against this latter force Muhammed led an army of 400,000 men, who after a bloody battle with the invaders were completely routed, leaving it is said 160,000 dead upon the field. With the remnant of his host Muhammed fled to Samarkand.

Meanwhile Jagatai marched down upon the Jaxartes by the pass of Taras and invested Otrar, the offending city. After a siege of five months the citadel was taken by assault, and Inaljuk and his followers were put to the sword. To mark their sense of crime of which it had been the scene, the conquerors leveled the walls with the ground, after having given the city over to pillage.

At the same time a third army besieged and took Khogend on the Jaxartes ; and yet a fourth, led by Jenghiz and his youngest son Tule, advanced in the direction of Bokhara. Tashkend and Nur surrendered on their approach, and after a short siege Bokhara fell into their hands.

On entering the town Jenghiz ascended the steps of the principal mosque, and shouted to his followers, "The hay is cut ; give your horses folder." No second invitation to plunder was needed ; the city was sacked, and the inhabitants either escaped beyond the walls or were compelled to submit to infamies which were worse than death.

As a final act of vengeance the town was fired, and before the last of the Mongols left the district, the great mosque and certain palaces were the only buildings left to mark the spot where the "center of science" once stood.

History, it is said, is somewhat repetitive in nature. The Russians of 1222 ought to be able to confirm this. They may, in their defense, not have been fully up-to-date on news from the east.

[T]hey received envoys from the Mongol camp, whom they barbarously put to death. "You have killed our envoys," was the answer made by the Mongols ; "well, as you wish for war you shall have it. We have done you no harm. God is impartial ; He will decide our quarrel." If the arbitrament was to be thus decided, the Russians must have been grievously in the wrong. In the first battle, on the river Kaleza, they were utterly routed, and fled before the invaders, who after ravaging Great Bulgaria retired gorged with booty, through the country of Saksin, along the river Aktuba, on their way to Mongolia.

After this campaign, Jenghiz headed back to China to mete out some more of his own (clearly expressed) brand of justice. Sadly,

While on this campaign the five planets appeared in a certain conjunction which to the superstitiously minded Mongol chief foretold the evil was awaiting him. With this presentiments strongly impressed upon him he turned his face homewards, and had advanced no farther than the Se-Keang river in Kansuh when he was seized with all illness of which he died a short time afterwards (1227) at his traveling palace at Ha-laou-tu, on the banks of the river Sale in Mongolia.

By the terms on his will Oghotai was appointed his successor, but so essential was it considered to be that his death should remain a secret until Oghobati was proclaimed that, as the funeral procession moved northwards to the great ordu on the banks of the Kerulon, the escort killed every one they met. The body was then carried successively to the ordus of his several wives, and was finally laid to rest in the valley of Keleen.

Thus ended the career of one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen. Born and nurtured as the chief of a petty Mongolian tribe, he lived to see his armies victorious from the China Sea to the banks of the Dnieper[.]

With my own domestic harmony in mind, I omit Robert K. Douglas' final remarks on the eventual decline of the Mongolian empire and nation.

Read the original 9th Edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica article JENGHIZ KHAN here.

Read the current Britannica Online article GENGHIS KHAN here.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

18. (ii) The ideas involved with the word race

The opening remarks of Professor Keane's article leave little room for doubt concerning the tone we can expect to follow.
NEGRO (Spanish and Italian Negro, from Latin Niger, black) in anthropology designates the distinctly dark as opposed to the fair, yellow, and brown varieties of mankind.

There follow several paragraphs going into particular detail to define in exactly which part of Africa the 'true' negro may be found. Having settled on his region, Mr Keane gets straight to business.

...[T]he African aborigines present almost a greater uniformity of physical and moral type than any of the other great divisions of mankind.

A convenient finding to suit the sweeping generalisations that follow: they all look and act alike.

By the nearly unanimous consent of anthropologists this type occupies at the same time the lowest position in the evolutionary scale, thus affording the best material for comparitive study of the highest anthropoids and the human species.
One immediately pictures bearded anthropologists ensconced in the high-backed chairs of some pipe smoke filled Mayfair club, arguing over the merits of the yellow races as opposed to the brown. The wider cultural context ought to borne in mind here.

There are no corresponding articles in the Ninth edition for other races, but there is an article ANTHROPOLOGY where comparitive treatment is given. We ought not forget, reading these, that Anthropology was an extremely young discipline of learning, and founded on the startlingly bold and modern ideas put forward by Charles Darwin. The Origin of the Species was printed in 1859. Darwin's Descent of Man was printed in 1871, and is referenced, along with the work of other naturalists, in Volume 2's 1875 article on this new and controversial science. In ANTHROPOLOGY, Richard Garnet, LL. D., says that the classification of the 'Races of Mankind'

rests on grounds which are within limits not only obvious but definite. Whether from a popular or a scientific point of view, it would be admitted that a Negro, a Chinese and an Australian, belong to three such permanent varieties of men, all plainly distinguishable from one another and from any European. Moreover, such a division takes for granted the idea which is involved in the word race, that each of these varieties is due to special ancestry, each race thus representing an ancient breed or stock, however these breeds or stocks may have had their origin. The anthropological classification of mankind is thus zoological in its nature, like that of the variety of species of any other animal group, and the characters on which it is based are in great measure physical, though intellectual and traditional peculiarities, such as moral habit and language, furnish important aid.

There is considerably more of interest in this article, which I may work my way back to at some future date. I would like at this stage to rest by drawing attention to the reasonable intent to make the study of man an equal project to the study of other animals, but also the peculiar fixed notion of "permanent varieties of men." Later in the article, the author raises the question as to whether the different races of man "can unite to produce fertile offspring." He informs us that for the most part scientific study has supported this hypothesis. The author then addresses the question as to whether these "permanent races" originated from common ancestors, or from separate species.

Scientific study at the time provided good grounds to believe that different races of man originated in different species. In modern times this theory has finally been reserved solely for cranks, thanks largely to the discovery of DNA and the subsequent study of our genetic ancestry. In the 19th Century, however, the weight of consensus generally leaned the other way, with the "polygenists", taking fairly reasonable proofs such as the relative youth of homo sapiens considered against what were seen as the distinctness in human variety. The "monogenists", on the other hand, were reliant on unquantifiable faith - the Biblical story of Adam and Eve.

To return to Professor Keane's study, he now elucidates by listing fourteen characteristics which distinguish the Negro race. In a spirit, one might generously suppose, of cold scientific detachment, Keane succeeds in giving the reader a written mirror of the most cartoonish of racial stereotypes.

[...] (8) exceedingly thick cranium, enabling the Negro to butt with the head and resist blows which would inevitably break any ordinary European's skull ; (9) correspondingly weak lower limbs, terminating in a broad flat foot with low instep, divergent and somewhat prehensile great toe, and heel projecting backwards ("lark heel")[...] (11) short, black hair, eccentrically elliptical or almost flat in section, and distinctly woolly, not merely frizzly, as Pritchard supposed on insufficient evidence [...]

Whoever Pritchard was, his reputation is done considerable good by this cattish swipe from Keane.

The professor's fourteenth observation needs yet further prefacing and caution. It is not unimaginable that some bigot or other would delight in these 19th century remarks, and much as I regret that, it cannot be avoided without losing the greater insight into the foundation of their bigotry that more balanced readers will hopefully gain. The core fallacies of this scientific study are exposed here, to my reading : if somebody else reads and choses to agree with the original author, I would suggest that they cherished such prejudices in the first place. The words are chilling, however, and make for uncomfortable reading. That these observations are supposedly the result of impartial scientific study, is difficult to credit; one assumes, however, that to the educated majority who read these words one hundred and thirty years ago (and for many years that followed), that is exactly how this was read.

(14) the cranial sutures, which close much earlier in the Negro than in other races. To this premature ossification of the skull, preventing all further development of the brain, many pathologists have attributed the inherent mental inferiority of the blacks, an inferiority which is even more marked than their physical differences. Nearly all observers admit that the Negro child is on the whole quite as intelligent as those of other human varieties, but that on arriving at puberty all further progress seems to be arrested. No one has more carefully studied this point than Filippo Manetta, who during a long residence on the plantations of the Southern States of America noted that "the Negro children were sharp, intelligent and full of vivacity, but on approaching the adult period a gradual change set in. The intellect seemed to become clouded, animation giving place to a sort of lethargy, briskness yielding to indolence. We must necessarily suppose that the development of the Negro and the White proceeds on different lines. [...]"

It is curious how a scientific observer could watch carefree young children develop into listless adults in the Southern U.S., and ascribe that change to closing cranial sutures, rather than living under the abject conditions of the lash and grinding labour on the cotton plantations. Had they never observed a degree of sullenness in the white mining races or mill-factorying races of the Northern States and of Europe? The descriptions we have of those peoples is hardly a picture of vivacity and contentment in adulthood.

That the Southern States in the middle if the 19th century might not be the best place for dispassionate study does not seem to have occurred to Professor Keane. In a footnote he gives us his evidence of the flawed moral character of blacks, by quoting substantially from a presumably unbiased source, notably, however, describing the findings of the Reverend Dr Tucker as casting "a lurid light" on the matter:

"I know of whole neighbourhoods," he tells us, "where there is not one single Negro couple, whether legally married or not, who are faithful to each other beyond a few weeks. [...] The most pious Negro that I know is confined in a penitentiary for an atrocious murder, and he persists in saying he can see no offence against God in his crime, though he acknowledges an offence against man."

It is from observations of this calibre that Keane is able to draw his conclusions for his final remarks.

It is more correct to say of the Negro that he is non-moral than immoral.[...] No full-blood Negro has ever been distinguished as a man of science, a poet, or an artist, and the fundamental equality claimed for him by ignorant philanthropists is belied by the whole history of the race throughout the historic period.

Speaking as an ignorant philanthropist, I might hope after reading this that, were Professor Keane able to reverse our process, and look out from the pages of Britannica and see the historic period from our perspective, he would find cause to rethink the merits of some of his presumptions and findings.

* * *

It might be of interest to Accoringianists to read what the current edition of Britannica has to say on the subject of Anthropology, in particular the evolution of that field of study. Well now, thanks to a very generous promotion allowing Webographers to link to articles (in full) from the pages of their blogs, I can offer you the opportunity to do just that.

Read the Britannica Online ANTHROPOLOGY article here!

However, you will be failing to serve your best interests if you do not give your full attention to the original ANTHROPOLOGY article, which can be found at According to the Ninth's good friend Rule Britannica!

Read Richard Garnet's 1875 ANTHROPOLOGY article at here!