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

Monday, 21 July 2008

24. Mysterizingness in the Limbo of Effete Heresies

"PHRENOLOGY. The name was given by Forster in 1815 to the empirical system of psychology formulated by Gall and developed by his followers, especially by Spurzheim and Combe. At first it was named "cranioscopy," "craniology," "physiognomy," or "zoonomy," but Forster's name was early adopted by Spurtzheim, and became that whereby the system is now known. The principles upon which it is based are four : (1) the brain is the organ of the mind ; (2) the mental powers of man can be analysed into a definite number of independent faculties ; (3) these faculties are innate, and each has its seat in a definite region of the brain ; (4) the size of each of these regions is the measure of the power of manifesting the faculty associated with it. While phrenology is thus, on the one hand, a system of mental philosophy, it has a second and more popular aspect as a method whereby the disposition and character of the individual may be ascertained. These two sides of the subject are distinct from each other, for, while it can only serve as a reliable guide for reading character on the assumption of its truth as a philosophic system, yet the possibility of its practical application does not necessarily follow from the establishment of the truth of its theoretic side."

The author of this essay, A. Macalister, M. D., Professor of Anatomy, University of Cambridge, is necessarily careful in his introduction of this subject. It is worth considering that while today we can easily dismiss Phrenology as an amusing, faith-based pseudo-science, in the 19th Century, however flawed the scientific method , the products of the subject were worth considering, in the absence of more rigorously achieved data.

Macalister gives us the history of the subject - from the work of early Greeks and Egyptians, through Albertus Magnus to Theodore Gall, and the heyday of Phrenology as a respected scientific philosophy in the early 19th Century.

"The popularity of phrenology has waned, and few of the phrenological societies now survive ; the cultivation of the system is confined to a few enthusiasts such as will be found attached to any cause, and some professional teachers who follow phrenology as a vocation. Like many similar systems, it has a much larger following in America than in Europe. Based, like many other artificial philosophies, on an admixture of assumption and truth, certain parts will survive and become incorporated into scientific psychology, while the rest will in due course come to be relegated to the limbo of effete heresies.

The faculties and their Localities.- The system of Gall was constructed by a method of pure empiricism, and his so-called organs were for the most part identified on slender grounds. Having selected the place of a faculty, he examined the heads of his friends and casts of persons with that peculiarity in common, and in them he sought for the distinctive feature of their characteristic trait. Some of his earlier studies were made among low associates, in jails, and in lunatic asylums, and some of the qualities located by him were such as tend to become perverted to crime. These he named after their excessive manifestations, mapping out organs of murder, theft, &c. ; but as this cast some discredit on the system the names were changed by Spurzheim, who claimed as his the moral and religious considerations associated with it."

Doctor Macalister proceeds admirably by cataloguing all thirty five propensities, sentiments and faculties of the system of Spurzheim and Combe. A selection follow :

[...](3) Concentrativeness, below the obelion and over the lambda. This is a region of uncertain function, unnoticed by Gall, but described as Inhabitiveness by Spurzheim, because he found it large in cats and in a clergyman fond of his home. [...]
(4) Adhesiveness (Amitie), over the lateral convoluted area of the lambdoidal suture. This region was prominent in a lady introduced to Gall as a model of friendship, and is said by him to be the region where persons close to each other put their heads together.
(5) Combativeness (Instinct de la defense), above the asterion ; it was found by Gall by examining the heads of the most quarrelsome of his low companions whom he had beforehand stimulated by alcohol. It was verified by comparing this region with the same part of the head of a quarrelsome young lady."

Now that is what I call a scientific study : administering alcohol to low companions, measuring their heads, then measuring that of a quarrelsome young lady for confirmation.
"(6) Destructiveness (Instinct carnassier), above the ear meatus. This is the widest part of the skulls of carnivorous animals, and was found large in the head of a student so fond of torturing animals that he became a surgeon, also large in the head of an apothecary who became an executioner.
[...](8) Acquisitiveness (Sentiment de la propriete), on the upper edge of the front half of the squamous suture. This part of the head Gall noticed to be prominent in the pickpockets of his acquaintance.
(9) Constructiveness (Sens de mechanique), on the stephanion ; detected by its prominence on the heads of persons of mechanical genius. It was found large on the head of a milliner of uncommon taste and on a skull reputed to be that of Raphael. [...]

Lower Sentiments
(10) Self-esteem (Orgueil, Fierte), at and immediately over the obelion ; found by Gall in a beggar who excused his poverty on account of his pride. This was confirmed by the observation that proud persons held their heads backwards in the line of the organ. [...]

Superior Sentiments
[...](14) Veneration (Sentiment religieux), median at the bregma. Gall noted when visiting churches that those who prayed with the greatest fervour were prominent in this region, and it was also prominent in a pious brother."

I wonder if there's any possibility that Gall made up these observations, off the top of his head, as it were.
"(15) Conscientiousness, unknown to Gall ; recognized by Spurzheim usually from its deficiency, and placed between the last and the parietal eminence.
[...](18) Wonder, said to be large in vision-seers and many psychic researchers. A second similar organ, placed between this and the next is called Mysterizingness by Forster, and is said to preside over belief in ghosts and the supernatural.
(19) Ideality (Poesie), noted by Gallfrom its prominence in the busts of poets ; said to be the part touched by the hand when composing poetry.
(20) Wit (Esprit caustique), the frontal eminence, the organ of the sense of the ludicrous, prominent in Rabelais and Swift. [...]

Perceptive Faculties
(22) Individuality, over the frontal sinus in the middle line ; the capacity of recognizing external objects and forming ideas therefrom ; said to have been large in Michelangelo, and small in the Scots.
(23) Form (Memoire des personnes), capacity for recognizing faces ; gives a wide interval between the eyes ; found by Gall in a squinting girl with a good memory for faces. [...]
(28) Number, on the external angular process of the frontal bone, large in a calculating boy in Vienna.
(29) Order, internal to the last, first noted by Spurzheim in an orderly idiot. [...]

Reflective Faculties
(34) Comparison (Sagacite comparative), median, at the top of the bare region of the forehead, where a savant friend of Gall's, fond of analogies, had a promonent boss."

And finally
"(35) Causality (Esprit metaphysique), the eminence on each side of Comparison, noticed on the head of Fichte and on a bust of Kant ; the seat of the faculty of correlating causes and effects."

Which one cannot help but imagine to have been somewhat lacking on the bonces of Messrs Gall, Spurzheim, and company.

You can enjoy the rest of Doctor Macalisters slightly sarcastic presentation of this entertaining pseudo-science in the full PHRENOLOGY posting at the 1902 Encyclopedia website. The term 'mysterizingness' seems not to have achieved wider currency in the last few hundred years, returning only 22 hits at present from the Google. Accordingianists might see it as their duty to remedy this situation, perhaps by leaving snide comments on the web forums of modern-day phrenology enthusiasts. Eg : "Your propensity to mysterizingness will leave you stranded in the limbo of effete heresies."

The Phrenology article in the current edition of Britannica is clearly a summary based on Doctor Macalister's 9th Edition article, which strikes a pleasing note of continuity across 130 years.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

23 (iii) Modesty, thy name is Professor J. B. Pettigrew

"To Professor J. Bell Pettigrew is due the merit of having first satisfactorily analysed [wing] movements, and of having reproduced them by the aid of artificial wings. This physiologist in 1867 showed that all natural wings, whether of the insect, bat, or bird, are screws structurally, and that they act as screws when they are made to vibrate, from the fact that they twist in opposite directions during the down and up strokes. He also explained that all wings act upon a common principle, and that they present oblique, kite-like surfaces to the air, through which they pass much in the same way that an oar passes through water in sculling. He further pointed out that the wings of flying creatures (contrary to received opinions, and as has been already indicated) strike downwards and forwards during the down strokes, and upwards and forwards during the up strokes. Lastly, and most important of all, he demonstrated that the wings of flying creatures, when the bodies of said creatures are fixed, describe figure-of-8 tracks in space, - the figure-of-8 tracks, when the bodies are released and advancing as in rapid flight, being opened out and converted into waved tracks.

Professor Pettigrew's discovery of the figure-of-8 and waved movements, concerning which so much has been said and written, was confirmed some two years after it was made by Professor E. J. Marey by the aid of the "sphygmograph."

from FLIGHT, FLYING MACHINES in volume 9 of the Ninth Edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Author : Professor J. B. Pettigrew. Including credits to illustrations and tables, I count no fewer than 45 named citations of the illustrious academic, which must surely be some kind of record.

It is a great shame that for all the time and energy the professor invested in the study of flapping, not a single flying machine following that model has ever sustained flight. Perhaps surprisingly, J. B. P. was not entirely blinkered in his view of the problem of flight, and although containing a great deal on the subject of flapping, his article does eventually move into other areas.

"In flight, one of two things is necessary. Either the wings must attack the air with great violence, or the air in rapid motion must attack the wings : either suffices. [...] The flight of the albatross supplies the necessary illustration. If by chance this magnificent bird alights upon the sea he must flap and beat the water and air with his wings with tremendous energy until he gets fairly launched. This done he extends his enormous pinions and sails majestically along, seldom deigning to flap his wings, the breeze works for him."

The article continues at length, describing with enthusiasm projected and attempted models, in many (but not all) of which some kind of flapping motion is a key feature. It would be far fairer to Professor Pettigrew to reproduce his text in full : however fairness is not my object at this time, so we will finish with the professor's final, patriotic words, and do our best to forget two bicycle-salesmen brothers from Ohio.

"The unremitting efforts of Mr Moy and other British engineers to construct flying machines deserve well of science. They are significant as showing that the great subject of aerial navigation is at length receiving a fair share of the thought and energy of a country which has already produced the locomotive engine, and which, there is good reason to believe, is destined also to produce the flying machine."

[You can now enjoy the article FLIGHT, FLYING MACHINES in full at the 1902 Encyclopedia, complete with all illustrations.]

Thursday, 17 July 2008

23 (ii) A physical problem to be solved by mechanical skill and ingenuity

"FLIGHT, FLYING MACHINES. Of the many scientific problems of modern times, there are few possessing a wider or more enduring interest than that of aerial navigation. To fly has always been an object of ambition with man ; nor will this occasion surprise when we remember the marvellous freedom enjoyed by volant as compared with non-volant animals. The traditions of Daedalus and Icarus illustrate the attempts in the past ; and at the present day societies exist in Britain, France, Austria, and other countries, for the purpose of solving, if possible, the knotty problem. These societies embrace men of the highest scientific attainments, and as they evince great activity, and publish their proceedings at regular intervals, it is not too much to expect that the problem of artificial flight will be actually solved, or at least much simplified. For the first time in the history of the world, the subject of aerial navigation has been taken up in earnest by practical men with the necessary degree of preliminary knowledge and training. Investigators no longer dream about flight : they experiment upon and work towards it. It is, they maintain, a physical problem to be solved by mechanical skill and ingenuity. But while writing thus hopefully, it is necessary to state that as yet no one has succeeded in constructing a fully equipped flying machine. The number of successful flying models, however, is so considerable as to inspire the cultivators of aeronautical science with a very confident hope of success."

So begins Professor J. B. Pettigrew's delightful and compelling essay, a companion to AERONAUTICS in EB9's first volume, available for your perusal at our old friend . [As is FLIGHT, FLYING MACHINES in full now, complete with the illustrations in their original, undistorted context]. The thrill and excitement of man's incipient conquest of the air hums from the very pages. There are many charmingly potty allusions and speculations, but the writing is clear and informative, and conveys to the reader a great and insight and appreciation of the particular problem.

"The subject of aerostation is admitted on all hands to be one of extreme difficulty. To tread upon the air (and this is what is really meant) is, at first sight, in the highest degree utopian ; and yet there are thousands of living creatures which actually accomplish this feat. These creatures, however varied in form and structure, all fly according to one and the same principle ; and this is a significant fact, as it tends to show that the air must be attacked in a particular way to ensure flight. The flying machine of the future, there can be no doubt, will be constructed on the type of flying animals, - the insect, bird and bat. It behoves us then at the outset to scrutinise very carefully the general configuration of flying animals, and in particular the size, shape and movements of thei flying organs.

Flying animals, it may be premised, differ entirely from sailing ships and from balloons, with which they are not unfrequently though erroneously compared ; and a flying machine constructed upon proper principles can have nothing in common with either of those creations."

It would no doubt be of satisfaction to the professor to learn that in the 21st century, comparisons between flying creatures and boats and balloons are now happily unfrequent.

There follows a discussion of the similarities and differences between those creatures and objects which move through water and through the air. Professor Pettigrew is contemptuous in his dismissal of the balloon, inferior to both the ship and the true flying machine in its inability to steer : it is a "mere lifting machine." His assertion that the "force required to propel a balloon against even a moderate breeze would result in its destruction" would of course later be disproved by the invention of the airship ; it is difficult to dismiss the notion that the spectacular demise of that particular form of aerial navigation would have caused the professor no small degree of schadenfreude.

Balloons operate by being being lighter than the air and so rising, passively - but weight and power are discovered to be the secret of the true flying machine, which

"need not necessarily be a light, airy structure exposing an immoderate amount of surface. [...] It should attack and subdue the air, and never give the air an opportunity of attacking and subduing it. It should smite the air intelligently and as a master, and its vigorous well-directed thrusts should in every instance elicit an upward and forward recoil. The flying machine of the future, there is reason to believe, will be a veritable example of "multum in parvo." It will launch itself in the ocean of air, and will extract from that air, by means of its travelling surfaces - however fashioned and however applied - the recoil or resistance necessary to elevate and carry it forward."

Rousing stuff, professor!

Next : more.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

23. (i) The Chillingham Bull, the Turtle and the Bat

According to the Ninth is a realm where nothing is fixed, so I hope that readers will bear with me through this current stage of outlandish experimentation. You may notice that the charmingly quaint Morris-like background template (known to Blogger as Scribe) has been dropped in favour of one starker and simpler. The reasons behind this change are

1. I couldn't help but notice that every blog of vaguely nineteenth century material uses the exact same template.

2. The blockquote function in that format prints in italics, which interferes with following EB9's use of italics to denote book titles. As you will appreciate, this is deeply irksome.

3. Rare occasions allow me a few minutes of spare time from my employment to enter Interwebshire, and on those occasions the processors of the steam-driven Babbage engines at my place of work struggle to load and scroll such frivolous embellishments.

The final point has also been an excuse for keeping this site image free, however the wonder that is Freecycle has today seduced me with a flatbed scanner, and the accompanying hours of mounting frustration as the thing hums, whirrs and pauses ominously, whilst a black mess on the screen may or may not look slightly more promising than the last three dozen attempts.

There is more to Encyclopaedia Britannica than its sublime text. There are maps, beautiful engravings, and fascinating tables of all sorts of data. I owe it to the greater glory of the Ninth Edition to persevere with this new-fangled and unaccustomed technology, and I hope that this will ultimately benefit patient and loyal Accordingianists everywhere. As a foretaste, from the article FLIGHT, FLYING MACHINES, by Prof J. B. Pettigrew, I give you a most edifying set of figures, illustrating creatures that can (1) not fly, (2) sort of fly (i.e. swim) and (3) fly. Remarkable, as I'm sure you will agree.

Monday, 14 July 2008

22 (iii) Obscure histories and noble successes

I have tried without success to get hold of a copy of Braveheart this past week, with the object of drawing precise comparisons between the movie's depiction of events and the historical record. Instead I must rely on my imperfect memory. I seem to recall King Patrick the McGoohan cursing and fretting that the maverick Sgt Gibson and his crazy schemes are about to lay waste to Olde London Town, or some such, and that only a fiendish betrayal inexplicably not perpetrated by Alan Rickman can save his realm.

There is presumably some very logical law of historical motion picture-making which demands such reinterpretations. A shame, because the outline given in Britannica seems cinematic in scope, despite lacking the bizarre insertion of a love triangle between the vengeful Scot and Edward's queen.

Last week we saw the fierce uprising initiated by Wallace shattered by division in his ranks. Undeterred, however,
"Wallace retired to the north, and although deserted by the barons was soon at the head of a large army. The vigour and success of his operations was such that in a short time he succeeded in recovering almost all the fortresses held by the English to the north of the Forth. He had begun the siege of Dundee when he received the information that an English army, led by the Earl of Surrey and Cressingham the treasurer, was on its march northward. Leaving the citizens of Dundee to continue the siege of the castle, he made a rapid march to Stirling. Encamping in the neighbourhood of the Abbey Craig - on which now stands the national monument to his memory - he watched the passage of the Forth. After an unsuccessful attempt to bring Wallace to terms, the English commander, on the morning of 11th September 1297, began to cross the bridge. When about one half of his army had crossed, and while they were still in disorder, they were attacked with such fury by Wallace, that almost all - Cressingham among the number - were slain, or driven into the river and drowned.

"[...]The results of [this battle] were important. The English were everywhere driven from Scotland. To increase the alarm of the English, as well as to relieve the famine which then prevailed, Wallace organized a great raid into the north of England, in the course of which he devastated the country to the gates of Newcastle. On his return he was elected guardian of the kingdom. In this office he set himself to reorganize the army and to regulate the affairs of the country. His measures were marked by much wisdom and vigour, and for a short time succeeded in securing order, even in the face of the jealousy and opposition of the nobles."

This was the pinnacle of Wallace's career - his successes were remarkable and inspiring, and well worthy of celluloidal commemoration. His downfall, execution and legacy were equally dramatic.

Edward I, the "Hammer of the Scots" was in Flanders during the Battle of Stirling.

"He hastened home, and at the head of a great army entered Scotland in July 1298. Wallace was obliged to adopt the only plan of campaign which would give any hope of success. He slowly retired before the English monarch, driving off all supplies and wasting the country. The nobles as usual for the most part deserted his standard. Those that remained thwarted his councils by their jealousies. His plan, however, came very near being successful. Edward, compelled by famine, had already given orders for a retreat when he received information of Wallace's position and intentions. The army, then at Kirkliston, was immediately set in motion, and next morning (July 22, 1298) Wallace was brought to battle in the vicinity of Falkirk. After an obstinate fight,the Scots were overpowered and defeated with great loss. Among the slain were Sir John de Graham, the bosom friend of Wallace, whose death, as Blind Harry tells, threw the hero into a frenzy of rage and grief. The account of his death is one of the finest and most touching passages of the poem. With the remains of his army Wallace found refuge for the night in the Torwood - known to him from his boyish life at Dunipace. He then retreated to the north, burning the town and castle of Stirling on the way. He resigned the office of guardian, and betook himself again to a wandering life and a desultory and predatory warfare against the English. At this point his history again becomes obscure.

"[...]When in the winter of 1303-4 Edward received the submission of the Scottish nobles, Wallace was expressly excepted from the terms. And after the capture of Stirling castle and Sir William Oliphaunt, and the submission of Sir Simon Fraser, he was left alone, but resolute as ever in refusing allegiance to the English king. A price was set upon his head, and the English governors and captains in Scotland had orders to use every means for his capture. On the 5th August 1305 he was taken - as is generally alleged, through treachery - at Robroyston, near Glasgow, by Sir John Menteith, carried to the castle of Dumbarton, and thence conveyed in fetters and strongly guarded to London. He reached London on the 22d August, and next day was taken to Westminster Hall, where he was impeached as a traitor by Sir Peter Mallorie, the king's justice. To the accusation Wallace made the simple reply that he could not be a traitor to the king of England, for he never was his subject, and never swore fealty to him. He was found guilty and condemned to death. The sentence was executed the same day with circumstances of unusual cruelty."

Our Reverend author closes with a very nice summation.

"The cause of national independence was not lost with the life of Wallace. Notwithstanding the cruelty and indignity amid which it terminated, that life was not a failure. It has been an inspiration to his countrymen ever since. The popular ideas regarding his stature, strength, bodily prowess, and undaunted courage are confirmed by the writers nearest his own time - Wyntoun and Fordun. And indeed no man could in that age have secured the personal ascendancy which he did without the possession of these qualities. The little we know of his statesmanship during the short period he was in power gives proof of political wisdom. His patriotism was conspicuous and disinterested. He was well skilled in the modes of warfare that suited the country and the times. That he failed in freeing his country from the yoke of England was due chiefly to the jealousy with which he was regarded by the men of rank and power. But he had a nobler success in inspiring his countrymen with a spirit which made their ultimate conquest impossible."

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

22 (ii) Happy Treaty of Irvine Day

WALLACE, SIR WILLIAM, the most popular national hero of Scotland, is believed to have been the second son of Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie and Auchinbothie, in Renfrewshire. The date of his birth is not certainly ascertained, but is usually given as 1270.

"Not certainly ascertained" is uncharacteristically clumsy for the Ninth edition (why not simply "uncertain"?), and a poor start for author A. F. H. whose humble entry in the Index's List of Contributors reads : A. F. HUTCHISON, M.A., Rector, High School, Stirling.

The only authority for the events of his early life is the metrical history of Blind Harry. That authority cannot be implicitly relied on, though we need not conclude that the minstrel invented the stories he relates.

I don't intend to harp on the good Reverend's writing style, which might bring to mind pots, kettles, and degrees of swarthiness, but the repetition of "authority" is another clunker. I am already imagining that A.F.H. might have been a beloved school master of volume 24's editor. I am furthermore caused to doubt whether Blind Harry really was a minstrel and not a mere strolling instrumental musician.

Blind Harry's verses were supposedly based on the Latin testimony of Wallace's personal friend, John Blair.

As Blair's account has perished, we cannot tell how far the minstrel has faithfully followed his authority, but some comparatively recent discoveries have confirmed the truth of portions of the narrative which had previously been doubted. At best, however, his authority must be regarded with suspicion, except when it is confirmed by other and more trustworthy evidence.

That's two more "authorities", and from here onwards I will restrict my observations to content rather than style.

Only for a period of less than two years in his life - from the beginning of the insurrection in 1297 to the battle of Falkirk - does Wallace come before us in the clearest historical light. With the exception of one or two glimpses of him that we obtain from authentic historical documents, the recorded events of his later as of his earlier life rest on no more certain a[*******]y than that of Blind Harry.

The absence of reliable biographical information is little different in Wallace's case than in that of a great many other figures in history. Little more is known of the 'real' Wallace than can be proven of Robin Hood or King Arthur. True history, of course, is not saying that this or that happened, but that this or that piece of evidence exists, from which inferences are carefully drawn. Blind Harry's account is romantic, and may as well be believed as the truth, or ignored.

On account of an incident that happened at Dundee [where Wallace was studying] - his slaughter of a young Englishman named Selby, for an insult offered to him - he is said to have been outlawed, and so driven into rebellion against the English. Betaking himself to the wilds of his country, he gradually gathered round him a body of desperate men whom he led in various attacks upon the English.

The essential fact derived from Wallace's early career, is that he was an outlaw who attacked the English in Scotland. It may be that you find Mel Gibson's humble peasant enraged by Droit de Signeur somehow nobler than Blind Harry's hot-tempered, brawling student, but my own sympathies and credulity are more with the latter.

Anyhow, Wallace's successes attracted "patriotic nobles" to his cause.

His insurrection now became more open and pronounced, and his enterprises of greater importance. [...] The success of these exploits induced the English king to take measures for staying the insurrection. A large army, under the command of Sir Henry Percy and Sir Robert Clifford, was sent against the insurgents, and came up with them at Irvine. Dissension broke out among the Scottish leaders, and all Wallace's titled friends left him and made submission to Edward, except the ever faithful Sir Edward Moray. The Treaty of Irvine, by which these Scottish nobles agreed to acknowledge Edward as their sovereign lord, is printed in Rymer's Foedera. It is dated 9th July 1297, and is the first public document in which the name of Sir William Wallace occurs.

We'll leave our hero at this serendipitous juncture for today, without further questioning how Mr Gibson's blue-faced barbarian fits in with all these knights and lords. More presently.

[This article can be found at - taken from the 11th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. The article (from my uncertain ascertation), appears to be identical to the 9th Edition, with a full inventory of "accounts" and no other omissions or additions.]

Monday, 7 July 2008

22. (i) Freedom!

Having recently considered the depiction of the great conqueror Chinggis Khan in Mongol, I am led to ponder another cinematic portrayal of a martial hero, namely Mr Mel Columcille Gerard Gibson's iconic performance as the inspired guerrilla, William Wallace, in Braveheart.

Whilst not without its critics, Braveheart did (in addition to worldwide acclaim) prove popular with many Scots, in particular the leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, Alex Salmond, who was outspoken in its praise. It has just topped a poll as the Greatest Scottish Movie of All Time (narrowly beating Trainspotting, then Whiskey Galore). This is difficult to swallow for those who are concerned about either the depiction of the period (eg - kilts and woad having no part in Scottish dress at that time), or the events (eg - pretty much everything in the movie), let alone the notion of Sgt Martin Riggs as the Knight of Elderslie.

There is some consolation for English viewers that at least we get The Prisoner portraying the Hammer of the Scots, a nice piece of casting that almost makes up for everything else, and which (along with a desire to see just how grossly distorted the Gibson history was) greatly motivated a younger self to learn everything I could about the reign of Edward I - more on whom some other day.

Even those Scots who simply enjoyed Braveheart as a rousing piece of English-bashing entertainment found the grotesque Mel Gibson statue that materialized in 1997 at the Wallace Monument something of an insult to national pride. In a recent, delightfully apt development, it seems that the controversial sculpture may soon be moving to its natural home : Donald Trump's projected billion dollar golfing resort on the Aberdeenshire coast. At the risk of terminal digression, I note that Mr Trump has a very nice website outlining his proposal, which includes the following deeply touching personal detail:
The project will only strengthen Mr. Trump’s connection to Scotland, where his mother grew up in a simple croft (a small agricultural land unit found in northern Scotland) on the Island of Lewis in Stornoway.

The Wallace Monument - a colossal tower with an extravagantly crenellated crown - might be considered to be of an equally representative degree of poor taste and aesthetic judgement of the century in which it was constructed. My cautious opinion is that Victorian bad taste will stand the test of time better than late 20th century crassness. The 19th century was a time of a reemergence and to some extent redefining of Scottish nationalism, and Wallace became pre-eminent as a symbol of Scottish pride. Naturally, the final volume of the Edinburgh-published Ninth Edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica contains his biography. I hope that Accordingianists share my faith that the accuracy of EB9's portrait need not be prefaced by a disclaimer such as graces Braveheart's IMDB entry :

Incorrectly regarded as goofs: This is neither a biopic nor a historical documentary but is, rather, a romantic fiction inspired by true events. Many of the "real" characters and events have been deliberately reinterpreted to suit the story, as have some details of costume and custom.


Next : more Wallace.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

21. Tumultuous and riotous assemblies

The Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar is currently under a State of Emergency, as a result of disturbances following widespread dissatisfaction with the conduct and outcome of the country's recent parliamentary elections. Protesting crowds in the capital's central Sukhbaatar Square have led to riots which have resulted in five deaths, the destruction of the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party headquarters, and damage and looting to the Culture Palace. English language commentary on the events has been posted at the Asian Gypsy blog, scoring valuable points for citizen journalism. (The limited international interest in the run-up to the election is wryly underlined by this posting, remarking on the fascination with the fact that some voters arrived at polls on horseback.)

Today's Guardian has found room for the subject, and takes this assessment from a Reuters report:

Analysts and foreign business executives in Mongolia played down the violence, saying most Mongolians did not support it and describing it as teething troubles for a young democracy.

"The outskirts of Ulan Bator have a lot of poor and frustrated youngsters who would use any pretext to get to streets and participate in any turmoil[.]"

Whether by accident or design, the Guardian avoids the word 'riot.' The Ninth Edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica provides the following definition:

RIOT is "an unlawlful assembly which has actually begun to execute the purpose for which it assembled by a breach of the peace and to the terror of the public. A lawful assembly may become a riot if the persons assembled form and proceed to execute an unlawful purpose to the terror of the people, although they had not that purpose when they assembled" (Stephen, "Digest of the Criminal Law," art. 73).

[...]y. In its previous stages it may be an affray, an unlawful assembly, or a [rout], according to circumstances, and it may, if carried far enough, become treason. An affray is the fighting of two or more persons in the public street. An unlawful assembly is an assembly of three or more persons with the intent to commit a crime by force or carry out a common purpose, lawful or unlawful, in such a way as to give reasonable grounds for fearing a breach of the peace. A rout is an unlawful assembly which has made the motion towards the execution of its common purpose. If the unlawful assembly should begin to demolish a particular inclosure, that would be a riot ; if it should proceed to pull down all inclosures, that would be treason.

I imagine that a history of disturbances fitting the legal definition of 'riot' in British history would provide an interesting parallel to show social progress and the movement of democracy. Whenever unsatisfactory conditions such as shortages of food or employment have led to large crowds of aggrieved citizens congregating, the law has sought to preserve the peace. Inevitably, the forces of law and order are in a reactionary position in these engagements, but that a 'riot' by this definition includes the wanton (or directed) destruction of property, draws a distinction between that act and a 'protest.' My right-on NERVE 2008 Calendar lists an upcoming anniversary on 4th of July as:

1981: Start of Liverpool 8 uprising ('the riots')

As though the scale of events in Toxteth that year are somehow only alleged. The Boston Riots of 1770 are of course remembered as a 'massacre' in the former colonies: the emotional impact of soldiers firing at a mob attacking them in a city where their presence is resented by much of the populace, is a phenomena not without significance to the present United States.

There is something of a nostalgic, old-worlde charm to the manner in which English laws on riotous assemblies were once carried out: by means of the 'reading of the Riot Act.' And something somehow quaint in notion that this would take place in the event of an unlawful assembly beginning to transform into the uglier stage - where modern laws involving Designated Areas and Anti-Social Behaviour Orders can be put in place for months at a time to empower the police against such an assembly occurring in the first place.

[It is] the duty of a justice, sheriff, mayor, or other authority, wherever twelve persons or more are unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together to the disturbance of the public peace, to resort to the place of such assembly and read the following proclamation :- "Our Sovereign Lady the Queen chargeth and commandeth all persons being assembled immediately to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations or to their lawful business, upon the pains of the Act made in the first year of King George for preventing tumultuous and riotous assemblies. God save the Queen." It is a felony punishable with penal servitude for life to obstruct the reading of the proclamation or to remain or continue together unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously for one after the proclamation was made or for one hour after it would have been made, but for being hindered.

The heavy penalty reflects the opinion that the offence "is the most grave kind of breach of the peace known to the law, short of treason." It is notable, however, that the penalties are incurred after fair warning, in the form of reading of the proclamation, is given. Furthermore, a distinction is noted that goes some way towards forestalling the Act and relating law being abused by justifying provocation from the forces of law and order themselves:

A matter of interest is the extent of the protection afforded by the Riot Act to soldiers acting under the commands of their officers. The soldier is at the same time a citizen, and the mere fact of his being a soldier is not sufficient to exonerate him from all responsibility. No case in which the question has called for a decision seems to have arisen. It is the opinion of Mr Justice Stephen that a soldier would be protected by orders for which he might reasonably believe his superior officer to have good grounds [...]. On the other hand, he would probably not be protected by an order plainly unnecessary, such as an order to fire into a crowd of women and children when no violence was observable.

This brings to mind the events in Londonderry of 1972 (and the much subsequent inquiry of 1998-2004) notorious as 'Bloody Sunday.' The last point of no violence being observable is largely contradicted by the majority of accounts which concede that British troops had been attacked, if only by a small group of teenagers throwing stones, but the question of whether soldiers had been given an immoral order and whether they bore any responsibility for obeying such an order, was at least (albeit after considerable time, at great expense and to the satisfaction of very few) asked.

FOOTNOTE: More pedantry. Where the word "rout" appears in square brackets above, EB9 printed "riot", but I took it from the later reference to rout and the context being stages that lead to and succeed a riot, that this was a rare error in our noble work of reference. As the word is not being used in this instance in a sense with which I am familiar, and as I am myself fallible, it could be that my correction is itself an error. You have been cautioned.