Wednesday, December 8, 2010

March To The Scaffold - Symphonie Fantastique Movement 4

Apologies Gentle Readers, the Amateur Historian meant to post this in honor of the anniversary of the debut of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique on December 5th, but had some techincal issues trying to figure out how to link to specific times in youtube videos.

A Google search has since remedied this problem, and so the Amateur Historian would therefore like to discuss her favorite section of the Symphonie Fantastique, the fourth movement. This symphony follows a young Romantic, desperately in love with a woman who distains to even look at him. In the fourth movement, the young Romantic ODs on opium and hallucinates that he's killed his beloved and been condemned to the guillotine. After he's marched up to the scaffold, he takes a moment to think of his beloved (there is a pre-Wagnerian lietmotif associated with his beloved which returns in each movement) and then his head gets chopped off. And, best of all, there's two notes as his head thunks down two steps.

Oh Romanticism. You make the macabre kind of hilarious.

The French Revolution ("Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga)

Well, look what the Amateur Historian's friends kindly link her to, to save her the trouble of searching for these things on youtube herself. I would like to warn my Gentle Readers that the singing is actually painful and the background music is of the bad electronica variety found on the worst sorts of karoke machines, but it's....

Factual. Ish.

And probably the worst of all the videos the Amateur Historian has inflicted on you Gentle Readres. Including the one where Salieri got molested by a clown.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkies, penguins... they're both birds!

Happy Thanksgiving to those Gentle Readers who celebrate it! Have hundreds of Napoleon look-alikes sliding on the ice on their bellies and feel better about your turkey-filled one.

Friday, November 19, 2010

So this is why France has socialized health care!

Apparently the rest of this week is ust going to be "funny commercials starting Napoleon", so you have fair warning, Gentle Readers.

For those Gentle Readers who do not speak French, the ad goes:
Napoleon: Long live France! Long live the Republic! Yaaaaaaaaaaaaah! (charges!)
Horse: (whinnies)
Napoleon: But what are you doing, I said, 'Long live France'?!
General: It's not possible! We don't have any insurance.
Napoleon: But why?!
General: It's very expensive!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Garmin 2008 60 second Super Bowl Commercial

Look what the Amateur Historian's youtube trawling has unearthed now! The real reason why Napoleon kept his hand tucked in his coat, according to the makers of Garmin.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Clearly not a fan of France.

The 1830 French war with Algeria is, in the opinion of the Amateur Historian, more than a little odd. For one thing, it was orchestrated by the French king Charles X to distract French people from his absolutest policies (they weren't) and to rouse a feeling of French pride and patriotism via colonization that was planned to rival England's(it didn't) and for another, it had such a very odd beginning.

During the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt, the French bought a large amount of grain from Algeria and, after thirty or so years, the Dey of Algiers expectedly wanted to know when he was going to get paid. The French consul was not forthcoming nor was he particularly polite, so the Dey hit the French consul on the arm with a fly-swatter/fan made out of feathers.

Somehow, this was given as an acceptable excuse to take over Algeria.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

If nautical nonsense be something you wish....

Occasionally, parents have supportive comments when their offspring run off with significant others. Some parents simply have funny ones.

When James Joyce ran off with Nora Barnacle, Mr. Joyce was said to comment, "She'll certainly stick to him."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Le Bien qui fait Mal - Mozart l'Opéra Rock

Ah ha, Gentle Readers, to what depths does the Amateur Historian distain to trwal through to present you the oddest historically related material on youtube?

Here is the stage version of Le Bien qui fait Mal! There are, alas, no clowns, but there are a lot of scantily clad interprative dancers frolicking in front of a chamber orchestra who clearly don't care about what's going on in front of them. Unfortunately one does not see Salieri as he makes his prehistoric cry of rage, but one can see Mozart rocking out in lieu of, you know, actually conducting his music, and, after the song you can see him get hit upside the head by his in-laws, some of whom are dress more accurately than others. The Amateur Historian, for one, would like to know where Constanze Mozart's sleeves went.

Le bien qui fait mal Clip Officiel

Ah ha, Gentle Readers, here is something decidedly more in the spirit of Halloween! Here is another gem carefully mined from Mozart l'Opera Rock, where Salieri once again hears some of Mozart's work and seems to dive straight down into the tormented depths of his id, as represented by interprative dancers. Pay attention at 2:14, where I think the Emperor of Austria wanders in to act as Salieri's very forboding superego and at 2:19 where Salieri is inexplicably molested by a clown and makes his signature dying pterodactyl noise once again.

Dudley Moore Beethoven Sonata Parody

The Amateur Historian is extremely fond of Beethoven, but often feels quite sorry for the pianists who must tackle the more Romantic sonatas.

On an unrelated note that certainly betrays the Amateur Historian's country of origion, Happy Halloween to those Gentle Readers that celebrate it!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mozart l'Opéra Rock: Roll Over Beethoveen, Mozart Needs the Extra Room to Spin

Though the Amateur Historian is very fond of French opera, she must confess herself confused by this latest work adorning the French stage. Mozart l'Opera Rock is, you guessed it, a rock opera about Mozart. The action of the play seems to be loosely based on the play Amadeus. This rock opera is a rich mine of absurdity, but the Amateur Historian would like to pull out this particular gem for her Gentle Readers. In this song, 'L'Assasymphonie', Salieri develops a suicide wish after hearing The Marriage of Figaro and proceeds to sing about it and to try and cut his wrists with a conductor's baton.

The Amateur Historian's favorite moment, however, is the highly symbolic one around 3:40 where Salieri, unable to contain his emotions to mere words or melody, makes a noise like a dying pterodactyl.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Gee, You Shouldn't Have

To continue on in our exploration of Balzac, his mother had a very ambivalent relationship with him, eventually prefering his brother, the product of an illict affair with a local landowner, to her first-born, the Coffee Addict.

At least she did have some sense of who her son was, as, when she drew up her will in the cholera epidemic of 1830, she left everything to her son-born-of-adultery... save a small coffee pot, which she left to Balzac.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I bet he would be great at NaNoWriMo

Balzac's amazing productivity has other sources besides copious quantities of caffine. It seems to be attributed to a. a lot of debts, b. the necessity of making more money and c. self-will.

In an interesting combination of tthe three, Balzac was once called to court, having recieved several advances on a novel that was due two months ago. He was charged and his extremely angry editor demanded a novel within twenty-four hours.

Balzac managed to extend his sentance to twenty-four days, filled said days with coffee and had a finished novel in twenty.

(He did, however, lock himself in a room for twenty-four hours with nothing besides his writing supplies, coffee and a chamberpot and produced a short story. The Amateur Historian would like to profess her total lack of surprise that Balzac had heart troubles later in life and eventually died of a heart attack.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz

I have, in the past, provided a list of guidelines to becoming a romantic poet. Now, Gentle Reader, I can just hear your protestations: "That's all well and good, but I prefer the novel!"

But of course, Gentle Reader! If you want to be a prolific Romantic novelist (well technically realist), try Balzac's routine:

1. Go to bed at 6pm.
2. Wake up at 1 am. Have coffee.
3. Write until 8am, at which point have more coffee, followed by a garganutuan meal of a consomme, steak, a salad, a desert and more coffee.
4. Write/correct printer's proofs/attend to extensive corespondance until 4pm. Have coffee.
5. Visit with friends until 6pm, then eat again and go to sleep.

The real secret to this success, however, is the fifty cups of coffee Balzac consumed every day. In fact,his first debt was to a servant at his boarding school, for coffee and sugar.

In short, Gentle Reader, coffee is the opium of novelists. Better go dig out those Starbuck's gift cards!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Certain Regal Noncomformities

The Amateur Historian is a great admirer of the play The Madness of George III, which became the excellent (if somewhat horrifying, when one sees the medical treatments in vogue in the eighteenth century) film The Madness of King George. The playwright, Alan Bennet, said that one of the reasons he chose to write about George III was because he liked his sense of humor and offers this example.

One day during the king's illness, the king's equerry, Manners, saw that His Majesty had decided to hide underneath a couch in lieu of waiting for his dinner. With perfect composure, Manners set a place on the floor in front of the couch, bowed and began to walk out backwards.

The king, still under the couch, replied, "That was very good... manners."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

La Jaconde

On the subject of Napoleon and Josephine's boudoir, once Napoleon became First Counsol, he and Josephine moved to the Tuileries palace. Josephine did not like their lodgings, first of all because she felt haunted by the spirit of Marie Antoinette, and second of all, because she objected to Napoleon's sense of interior decoration.

That is to say, Napoleon had hung the Mona Lisa in their bedroom and Josephine got extremely jealous of the painting and had him move it- first to his bathroom and then to the Louvre, where it hangs to this day, amid all the other bits of cultural patrimony Napoleon took from other parts of Europe and neglected to give back once he was deposed.

Friday, September 10, 2010

om nom nom Napoleon

Lap dogs were common accessories for both men and women in the latter half of the eighteenth and the early part of the nineteenth century. In fact, when strolling through a gallery of eighteenth century portraits, one often begins to think that we have spent the last two hundred years in the perfection of the pug.

Pugs were also a favorite of the Empress Josephine. Before she married one Napoleon Bonaparte, she had a pug named Fortuné, with whom Napoleon did not get along. Fortuné returned the compliment in full and, on Josephine and Napoleon's wedding night, bit the future emperor in the calf.

It is rumored that once Josephine became Empress of the French, she sent messages to her husband by hiding them under Fortuné's collar. One would hope that Fortuné still did not have its particular taste for greatness.

Monday, August 30, 2010

At least no one guessed a platypus

Continuing with the same topic of Millais's Ophelia, there was, at one point, a water vole in the upper corner of the painting. Herein is a brief history of this mysterious aquatic mammal:

October 28th. My man, Young, brought me a rat after breakfast. Began painting it swimming when the governor [his father] made his appearance, bringing money, and sat with me whilst at work. After four hours rat looked exactly like a drowned kitten.

October 29th. Cleaned out the rat, which looked like a lion, and enlarged picture.

November 6th. Beautiful morning; much warmer than yesterday. Was advised by Hunt to paint the rat, but felt disinclined. After much inward argument took the large box containing Ophelia's background out beside Hunt, who again was to paint the sheep. By lunch time had nearly finished rat most successfully.

November 7th. After breakfast examined the rat. From some doubtful feeling as to its perfect portraiture determined to retouch it. Young made his appearance, with another rat, and (for Hunt) a new canvas from the carrier at Kingston. Worked very carefully at the rat, and finally succeeded to my own and everyone's taste.

December 4th. Hunt's uncle and aunt came, both of whom understood most gratifyingly every object except my water-rat, which the male relation (when invited to guess at it) eagerly pronounced to be a hare. Perceiving by our smile that he had made a mistake, a rabbit was next hazarded, after which I have a faint recollection of a dog or cat being mentioned by the spouse, who had brought with her a sponge-cake and bottle of sherry, of which we partook at luncheon. Mutual success and unblemished happiness was whispered over the wine, soon after which they departed in a pony-chaise. Laughed greatly over the day, H. and self.

Deciding that he did not like the particular ambiguity of his water rat, Millais eventually erased it entirely.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Feed the Birds

Though it is more usually said that to feed the birds, one can pay tuppance a bag, the French musician Berlioz had a more unusual practice.

Berlioz first arrived in Paris as a medical student, a profession he rather famously detested, to the point of defenestration, the first time he had a dissection lab. However, he was forced back into the lab and, though he worked with the windows open, he did not jump out any of them. Instead, he watched the sparrows that flew through and fed them bits of dissected lung.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fop 'til you drop!

The Amateur Historian devotes a not inconsiderable portion of her life trying to find absurd videos on youtube and has found, yet again, one of the more... bizarre contemporary interpretations of eighteenth century culture.

Gentle Readers, I present to you, Prince Poppycock:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Really Giving Her an Earful

Vincent van Gogh's missing ear is a subject of much amusement and bemusement. According to popular rumor, van Gogh cut off his ear in the city of Arles, in Provence, as a gift to a lady of negotiable affection who did not take an interest in him. The people of Arles- particularly the gendarmerie, the local police force- like to point out that the records show a different story.

the artist Gauguin was paying a visit to M. van Gogh, when the later became extremely violent, threatened to kill Gauguin and accidentally cut off his own ear. Gaughin left Arles, and M. van Gogh, in his drunken state, decided that the best thing to do was to wander outside, give his ear to the first prostitute he saw in a nearby brothel, then pass out in his own blood in his room.

It is little wonder why the people of Arles only really liked M. van Gogh once he left them.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Today Alfred, Lord Tennyson is the butt of Dorothy Parker's wit:

Should Heaven send me any son,
I hope he's not like Tennyson.
I'd rather have him play a fiddle
Than rise and bow and speak an idyll.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dorthy Parker brings us some wisdom on Thomas Carlyle today:

Carlyle combined the lit'ry life
With throwing teacups at his wife,
Remarking, rather testily,
"Oh, stop your dodging, Mrs. C.!"

Thursday, July 15, 2010

In the spirit of Geroge Sand yesterday, let us turn to two of her contemporaries, Alexandre Dumas and His Son:

Although I work, and seldom cease,
At Dumas pere and Dumas fils,
Alas, I cannot make me care
For Dumas fils and Dumas pere.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Bastille Day, Gentle Readers! In honor of this holiday, the Amateur Historian would like to provide you all with Dorothy Parker's thoughts on a famous French citizen, George Sand:

What time the gifted lady took
Away from paper, pen, and book,
She spent in amorous dalliance
(They do those things so well in France).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dorothy Parker on D. G. Rossetti:

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Buried all of his libretti,
Thought the matter over - then
Went and dug them up again.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Today Dorothy Parker takes on Oscar Wilde:

If with the literate I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Today, the Amateur Historian would like to kick off a week of poetry about poets from the 19th century, or, to be entirely truthful, Gentle Reader, the wonderful wit of Dorothy Parker in her A Pig's Eye View of Literature.

We begin with:

The Lives and Times of John Keats,
Percy Bysshe Shelley, and
George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron

Byron and Shelley and Keats
Were a trio of Lyrical treats.
The forehead of Shelley was cluttered with curls,
And Keats never was a descendant of earls,
And Byron walked out with a number of girls,
But it didn't impair the poetical feats
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley,
Of Byron and Shelley and Keats.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Gerard de Nerval et son homard

The Amateur Historian is a huge fan of Gerard de Nerval, a Romantic poet who is much more famous in France than anywhere else, but seems to be renowned the world over for his unusual taste in pets. And, Gentle Readers, by "unusual" the Amateur Historian means "a lobster", and by "lobster" she refers to "Thibault", a pet lobster de Nerval often walked on the end of a blue ribbon.

When in Pere Lachaise yesterday, the Amateur Historian took the opportunity to place a plastic lobster on a ribbon leash (unfortunately a green one) on de Nerval's grave. While there, the Amateur Historian saw a tour guide get very excited over de Nerval's new plastic friend:

For the non-French speakers, the tour guide is giving a brief summary of de Nerval's life and explaining that de Nerval is famous for walking with a lobster on the end of a leash. He then explains that he has lost his glasses and needs a member of the group to read the quote the Amateur Historian left with the lobster:
"Why would a lobster be any more ridiculous than a dog, or a cat, or a gazelle or a lion, or any other animal one chooses to take for a walk? I have a liking for lobsters, they are tranquil, serious creatures who know the secrets of the deep and don't bark....."

At the end, he mentioned that the lobster was an unusual event and took a photo of it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

For the French Romantics, theatre tended to be Very Serious Business indeed. The Battle of Hernani was, indeed, the flowering of the Romantic decision that in the debate of whether art reflects, or life reflects art, the answer is 'art is life'.

Certain Romantics were so dedicated to certain performers, plays or ensembles that they reserved the same seats for every performance, every evening at a given venue. For example, at the Théâtre-Italien, Ernest Legouvé reported that there were about sixty or so men of different ages and professions (though mostly lawyers, magistrates and writers), formed a sort of Romantic phalanx whose only law was to never miss a performance. They generally arrived an hour early, to discuss the upcoming performance and compare it with past ones that they had seen, and acted as a sort of jury, leading the rest of the audience in applause or silence.

If someone was so gauche as to start up a round of applause when the Romantic Regulars did not think an actor had merited one, an appointed spokesperson would say, quite sharply, "Is that one of the regulars of the Théâtre-Italien?"

At that point, the applause usually stopped.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hauteville House: An Introduction

The Amateur Historian begs the pardon of her Gentle Readers, as she has been on vacation/various geeky trips, i.e. to see Hauteville House on Guernsey. Hauteville House is, as Hugo and his family describe it, a poem in several rooms.

Unfortunately, that poem is one of Hugo's, so the floor plan has been inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy and is full of somber slogans about the transience of mortal existence, punctuated by skulls, Flemish paintings of peasants beating up the aristocracy, the clergy and the army, Orientalist touches like walls lined with unused crockery and Hugo's favorite interior design choice, carpeted ceilings.

According to the Divine Comedy floorplan, the ground floor is hell, full of somber colors, dark wood paneling and very little light. The second floor is purgatory, which is sumptuously and rather ironically decorated in Napoleon III style, full of silk brocades and metallic tapestries (several of which are, in fact, on the ceiling). The third floor and attic are paradise, with enormous windows dominating each room.

It is unclear, at this time, if there is a link between where Hugo placed people's bedrooms and the floors of his house. For example, Hugo's room is up in the attic, where the light streams in, his sons have rooms on the second floor, his wife and daughter have rooms in Purgatory and his poor, belagured secretary's room was on the first. It is quite possible that Hugo was very gently suggesting to M. Vacquerie to find another job; after all, when one's employer kindly reserves one a room in hell, it is rather a lowering experience.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

An Uncommonly Fun Funeral

If there was one thing that Victor Hugo loved more than himself, it was women. Though a great champion of social justice he was the patron of a number of Parisian brothels. Therefore, during his funeral, the policemen that the French government had brought in to keep the funeral from getting violent were upset that said government wished to shut down all the bars/ billiard rooms/ brothels in honor of Victor Hugo. The government then seemed to realize that Hugo would have wished for the brothels to remain open (some brothels even offered their services for free, in honor of the loss of so great a patron), or, rather, that the riot they wished to avoid would have started if said brothels closed and allowed them to remain open.

They did however, respectfully request all the prostitutes to wear mourning.

FUN FACT: The Place des Vosages, where Hugo spent a significant portion of his adult life used to be called the Place Royale. After the 1848 revolution, the department of Vosages was the first to send their taxes into the republican government, so the government changed the Place Royale to the Place des Vosages. See, good things come out of paying your taxes in a timely fashion!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Robespierre is a particularly interesting figure of the French Revolution, since 'Maximilien Robespierre, lawyer and delegate from Arras' has become so conflated with the propagandistic reinterpretations of his work, his speeches and his person. Despite all this, Robespierre has always remained very popular with women. The Amateur Historian is not well-versed enough in Robespierrist academia to venture a guess as to why this is, but his female fanbase has a long and respectable legacy.

For example, the famous feminist and playwright Olympe de Gouges appears to have written Robespierre a fanletter around the time of Louis XVI's trial and execution. She suggested that they drown themselves together in the Seine as an act of extreme patriotism.

It is not unsurprising that Robespierre preferred to express his patriotism in a less damp and deadly fashion.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Brontë Sisters Power Dolls

In the spirit of the past few posts, discover anew youtube's intriguing interpretation of 19th century literature, in the form of "Brontë Sisters Power Dolls". Never have the gender paradigms of the 19th century publishing industry been so epically or oddly dismantled.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I Wandered as Lonely as a Cloud of Opium Fumes

Gentle Readers, please be forewarned that this was an actual, serious tourism video for the Lake Countries of England. Why they decided that a giant squirrel named "MC Nuts" rapping Wordsworth would be the best testament to their attractiveness as a tourist destination is somewhat puzzling. However, as Ponpon from ArmJoe a few days ago taught us, nothing improves 19th century literature like a random animal doing anachronistic things.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Most Unusual Medal Awarded for Conduct During the Battle of Waterloo

Les Miserables has, as yesterday's post proved, a strange and powerful effect on people. When the novel first came out, for example, there was a great and powerful backlash against the digression Hugo included on the battle of Waterloo. Hugo had the audacity to include what he considered "perhaps the finest word ever spoken by a Frenchman," the defiant cry of "Merde!" by General Cambronne to the English during the battle.

This was not only excluded from several early translations of Les Miserables (most notably, the English one) but also caused a debate over General Cambronne's exclamation so virrulent that a sergeant (Deleau) who insisted that no such vulgarity had passed from General Cambronne's lips, despite the temptation to do so, won a medal.

Hugo was incredibly flattered: "To get a man the croix d'honneur, all I have to do is say merde."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Les Misérables: Letting the Disenfranchised Hit Back. In Green Minis, Apparently.

The Amateur Historian makes no secret of the fact that her favorite novel is Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, an epically long novel that at once presents the serious social problems of 19th century France and mythologizes them. Les Misérables has many interpretations (i.e. the musical, the multiple films and TV series) but the Amateur Historian finds that the Japanese have created by far the most absurd.

The Japanese company Takase has created a free downloadable 2D fighting game based on Les Miserables called ArmJoe, after the novel's Japanese title, Aa Mujou (ああ無情). The game features most of Victor Hugo's major characters, such as Jean Valjean, Enjolras (spelled Enjorlas, for whatever reason), Marius, Cosette, Éponine, Thénardier, and Javert, but also adds the characters Hugo was so negligent as to forget to include in his manuscript. These new additions consist of a policeman, a robotic clone of Valjean called RoboJean, an embodiment of Judgement, and, the Amateur Historian's personal favorite, a tea-drinking rabbit named Ponpon.

Enjoy, Gentle Readers. Everyone should have the experience of letting a tea-drinking rabbit run over Inspector Javert in a green Mini.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Reactions to Napoleon Bonaparate have always been mixed, particularly among the Romantics. Byron had a life-long fascination and self-identification with Napoleon, going so far in Childe Harolde as to call Napoleon "the greatest... of men" and to call himself "the grand Napoleon in realms of rhyme". Wordsworth, on the other hand, saw Waterloo as an act of "Almighty God" and became so vehement in his disapprobation of Napoleon he joined the Grasmere Volunteers to help defend England in case "Satan" should dare invade.

The German intelligentsia, despite having their country invaded by Napoleon, were more-or-less unanimous in their approval (Beethoven excluded). Goethe, with deep pleasure, received the Legion d'Honneur from Napoleon himself and declared that Napoleon, after the Revolution was "the expression of all that was reasonable, legitimate, and European in the Revolutionary movement". According to the British historian Alistair Horne, the philosopher Hegel went even further. "Hegel was said to have stood bareheaded in the street, even when the French soldiery stole his possessions; to him, Napoleon represented the 'Embodiment of the Absolute Ideal'. One hopes that said Embodiment was kind enough to return Herr Hegel's possessions.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It is always difficult to smuggle a banned book into a country in which it is banned, particularly when said banned book is Victor Hugo's Napoleon-le-Petit, which was obviously critical of Napoleon III, who exiled the author, and that country is France, ruled by said Napoleon III. Hugo's work reached Paris:

-tucked in barrels of hay
-wrapped around tobacco leaves
-stuffed in carriage clocks
-sandwhiched between two sheets of metal, i.e. as a sardine
-in bundles of pages strapped to the legs of tourists in baggy trousers
-hidden in the bindings of prayer books
-in women's garters

Perhaps the most outlandish method of dissemination reads like something out of Dumas novel, though it comes straight from the French Foreign Office:

"The latest mode of clandestine transmission consists of small balloons fashioned from sheets of printed paper which will be launched whenever the wind stands fair for France."

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Other Dumas Apparently Just Sucked

One Thursday in 1847, a little known playwright, Adolphe Dumas put on his play L'Ecole des familles. The Monday before, Edouard Thierry asked Alexandre Dumas, "When are they going to play your L'Ecole des familles at the Theatre-Historique?"

"Thursday," said Alexandre Dumas.

"How long do you think it will run?"

"Thursday," repeated Alexandre Dumas.

"But I didn't ask you when, I asked how long it will run."

"Well yes!" replied Alexandre Dumas. "I told you- Thursday."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Malays were pretty fierce back then it seems

While we are on the subject of opium, it would be remiss of the Amateur Historian not to mention Thomas de Quincey, whose rambling but fascinating narrative Confessions of an English Opium Eater, is not only an intriguing look at addiction, altered states of consciousness, English Romanticism and 18th-19th century England, but a repository of bizarre happenings, such as the Malay Incident. It is best to leave most of the description of this even in de Quincey's own words.

‘One day a Malay knocked on my door. What business could a Malay have to transact among the recesses of the English mountains was not my business to conjecture, but possibly he was on the road to Seaport, about forty miles distant’.

Though the servant girl, 'who had never seen an Asiatic before' was left in mutual bewilderment with the Malay, who spoke English as well as she spoke Malay, de Quincey took it upon himself to see to it that said nameless Malay got a place to stay and something to it. Then de Quincey gave him a parting gift in the form of (you guessed it!) a large lump of opium. de Quincey writes:

‘I was struck with some little consternation when I saw him suddenly raise his hand to his mouth, and bolt the whole, divided into three pieces, at one mouthful. The quantity (of opium) was enough to kill some half-dozen dragoons, together with their horses, supposing neither bipeds nor quadrupeds were trained opium-eaters.'

The Malay was perfectly fine, though de Quincey had highly symbolic nightmares for several pages after that.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bad Romanc...ticism

The Amateur Historian has often thought that Lady Gaga's music videos were best understood under the influence of something and would like to suggest that opium is as good as any- which this delightful music video on Samuel Taylor Coleridge shows perfectly:

Monday, March 8, 2010

It's only a flesh wound!

Wellington wasn't the only Brit at Waterloo with the stiffest of upperlips. During the battle, the Earl of Uxbridge reamarked to Wellington, "By God, sir, I have lost my leg!"

Wellington replied, "By God, sir, so you have!" at which point Uxbridge went to have the shattered remains of his leg amputated. His only reaction to the excruciating field surgery was to remark, "The knives appear somewhat blunt."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Stiff Upper Lip, what what?

The Duke of Wellington, among other things, was well-known for his hilariously matter-of-fact approach to difficult situations. During his political career (which is often forgotten, perhaps wisely, in favor of battlefield heroics), a madman burst into Wellington's office. Wellington asked what he wanted.

The madman replied that he wanted to kill the duke of Wellington.

"Does it have to be right now?" the Iron Duke demanded.

When the madman hesitated, Wellington waved him away and told him to come back later.

Unsurprisingly, Wellington escaped this assassination attempt unscathed.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rather a sticky situation

Ever since the New York delegation to the 1776 congress arrived in Philadelpha, unable to do much more than abstain from voting because the New York legislature had never been too busy arguing to give them any instructions (an oft-repeated quote from the film 1776: "New York abstains. Courteously!"), New York has had something of reputation for being the homebase of large, quarreling groups whose actions tipped into the bizarre.

The Amateur Historian enters the Molasses Gang evidence. This gang, first formed in 1871, had a peculiar form of robbery. One member would walk into a store and ask the storeowner to fill up his hat with molasses, saying that he had a bet with a friend on just how much molasses his hat could cold. The gangmember would thereupon stick the hat, full of molasses, on the head of the shopkeeper and the gang- presuming they hadn't gotten bored and wandered off halfway through, as was often the case- would loot the store.

The Amateur Historian does not quite blame the gang members for getting bored. It must have taken a very long time to fill anything up with molasses, let alone a hat.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Happy Birthday VH!

Gentle Readers, you might have realized that, as of late, there have been a spate of posts about Victor Hugo. Now, why is this you might ask? To build up to Victor Hugo's birthday today, of course!

The Amateur Historian, it must be admitted, feels herself unworthy of snarking just one moment of Hugo's life on his birthday, of all days, and so will let Graham Robb, who is quite possible The Literary Biographer of 19th century French authors, do the talking for her:

"[During the Paris Commune, the] whole city had paid tribute [to Victor Hugo], from the actress who called herself to 'Cosette' to the schoolteacher who called herself 'Enjolras'... 'Enjolras' was Louise Michel, soon to be adored and detested as one of the fiercest anarchists of the Commune, the so-called 'Red Virgin'. The thought of this martyr of socialism baring herself in front of her childhood hero has caused some discomfort to her admirers. A broad-minded socialist regime might have made it the subject of a commemorative postage-stamp."

The Amateur Historian would never use any other postage-stamp ever.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lost in translation

Even the most profound of literary geniuses have their little slip-ups. As the Gentle Reader may have noticed, the Amateur Historian possesses a certain fondness for Victor Hugo, whose life might as well have been the subject of one of his novels (and, to a certain extent they were; though some literary critics have floated the theory that all writing is, to a certain extent, autobiographical, Hugo drew inspiration for all of his works from his own life).

The Amateur Historian believes that Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was the first to point out that it took an odd sort of genius for a man exiled for about fifteen years to English-speaking islands in the Channel to never learn a word of English. It would have been useful for Hugo to learn at least one as, in his novel Les Travailleurs de la Mer, set on and dedicated to the island of Guernsey, Hugo lovingly devoted an entire chapter to his character's 'bug-pipe'.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Everything Should End with Partial Nudity

During the struggles for power between the Girondins and the Jacobins, debates could very quickly dissolve into shouting matches full of really bizarre insults or over-dramatic gestures against each other. Today this seems somewhat nonsensical, but, within the context of 18th century political life, this was perfectly reasonable. It was probably something of a feat to give a speech without an illustrative prop, an insult at whoever spoke before you, or an express wish for martyrdom.

Take, for example, this debate between three Jacobins (Robespierre, a delegate, Marat, a delegate and newspaper editor, and David, a delegate and painter) and one Girondon (Pétion, a delegate), from April 12, 1793, which ended on a more dramatic note than your usual legislative debate:

: I demand censure of those who protect traitors.
Marat: Bravo, bravo!
Robespierre: And their accomplices.
Pétion: Yes, their accomplices, and you yourself. It is time at last to end all this infamy; it is time that traitors and perpetrators of calumny carried their heads to the scaffold; and here I take it upon myself to pursue them to death.
Robespierre: Stick to the facts.
Pétion: It is you I will pursue! [The Amateur Historian would like to add, 'No, duh'.]
David: (suddenly running into the middle of the hall) Strike here! (tears open his shirt and thumps his bare chest) I propose my own assassination! I, too, am a man of virtue! Liberty will win in the end!
Marat: (unacademic phrases the secretary did not see fit to record)

Needless to say, nothing else got done that day.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How Very... Romantic

Happy Valentine's Day, Gentle Readers! The Amateur Historian will admit to preferring February 15th over February 14th, as, on the 15th, one can purchase pink-wrappered candy for 50% off. It is a very pleasant way to boost one's endorphin levels (and one's cholesterol, but no matter).

In honor of a very romantic holiday, the Amateur Historian would like to offer up quite possibly one of the most Romantic (in the sense of the literary and philosophic movement where one's demise was considered a perfectly reasonable subject of conversation, as long as one did not adhere to classical meter while doing so) gestures ever made by The French Romantic himself, Victor Hugo. The portrait of Hugo, to the left, was drawn by his then wife-to-be, Adèle Foucher, whom the young Hugo adored beyond reason. When his mother died and Hugo began spending his days standing across the street from the Foucher household, waiting to see Adéle come to the window, Adéle's parents became understandably alarmed. They whisked Adéle off to Dreux, ostensibly to visit a relative, but really to put a 25 franc coach ride between her and her poetic stalker.

A week later, Hugo arrived in Dreux, having marched on foot for fifty miles from Paris. After bathing in a river, he went to the Hôtel du Paradis, where the Fouchers were staying, and wrote a note to them about the remarkable coincidence that they should also be in Dreux, since he just happened to be there "in search of Druidic monuments".

M. Foucher was, to his credit, extremely impressed and invited Hugo to stay with them and write Gothic odes, provided they were about their rented holiday home instead of Adéle. Hugo and Adéle were married a year later.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

How Eloquent, M. Hugo

Victor Hugo was never one for staying silent when he could make speeches, and the mini-rebellion against Napoleon III's coup d'etat in 1851 was no exception. Upon hearing that several representatives had been arrested, troops had invaded the National Assembly, posters had been put up declaring a state of siege against the machination of liberal deputies and socialists, the bell-towers had been guarded, and all municipal drums (used to call people to arms, like the bell towers) had been punctured, Victor Hugo knew what to do. He grabbed his representative's sash and started agitating for rebellion.

Sure enough, Victor Hugo's quartier erected barricades (and was one of the few quartiers to do so). Victor Hugo dashed off wordy counter proclaimations, printed on an early form of carbon paper by illegal printing presses and attempted to harangue other quartiers into open rebellion. He was not very successful, as he admits in his memoirs:

Hugo: Follow my sash to the barricades.
A Worker: That's not going to put another forty sous in my pocket, is it?
Hugo: You are a cur.

Sometimes, the Amateur Historian admits, one ought to let history speak for itself.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Romantic Army on the March off Cliffs!

In belated honor of this blog's one year birthday, have a free opera from Paris! This is Massenet's Werther. Unfortunately the subtitles are in French, but the Amateur Historian would like to point out two scenes of Romantic OTT that need to be seen- 82:16-83:00 where Werther falls to the floor and curls into a fetal position at the loss of Charlotte, and 88:18-30, where Werther jumps off a wall in lieu of any other civilized way of ending a conversation. I highly recommend the opera, which is lovely, musically speaking, and suffers only slightly from being a Romantic work of literature that got reinterpreted into Victorian sentimentalism.

The Amateur Historian adores Romanticism, but is more of Byron's camp than Wordsworth's. The best Romanticism is done with a straight-face, but with tongue firmly in cheek.

Friday, January 29, 2010

An Intellectual Friendship, I'm Sure

As has been mentioned before, the Enlightenment was a bizarre time, full of experimentation of all sorts. The Amateur Historian offers up the example of the Hellenistist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, an essayist and archeologist whose work on Greek art inspired the Classical rival. Though homosexuality was literally a crime, courts (legal and noble) tended to forgive him his "Greek friendships" with beautiful young men as he pointed out that they were simply a way of exploring the Hellensitic mindset. The Amateur Historian personally finds this a hilarious method of circumventing somewhat irrational social mores, particularly when Winckelmann put it into practice.

Casanova noted some of Winckelmann's intellectual fervor in his memoirs, though Casanova's memoirs ought not to be taken at face value, considering that Casanova claimed that, at the age of twelve, he was a breathtakingly handsome charmer who could outwit trained scholars when puzzling out the complexities of Latin grammar. However, early one morning in Rome, he found Wincelmann, sans trousers, lying on top of a beautiful young boy. Casanova quite understandably asked for an explanation.

Winckelmann, pulling on his trousers, explained quite cheerfully that he was trying to "enter the minds" of his ancient heroes, as the glories of classical art could never be understood by "those who are observant of beauty only in women, and are moved little or not at all by the beauty of men".

Considering how the rest of Casanova's memoirs seems mostly to consist of Casanova a. meeting famous people, b. propositioning people and c. being propositioned by famous people, the Amateur Historian is quite shocked that Casanova did not add a note saying that Winckelmann then asked Casanova to join in this Classicist, intellectual endeavor. Presumably Casanova had heard Volatire's bon mot when he turned down a second round of experimentation at the very "gay" court of Frederick the Great: "Once, a philosopher; twice, a sodomite."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Really brilliant plan, there.

Shortly after Napoleon arrived in Elba, he decided that he did not like exile and would much prefer to be Emperor of the French again. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Napoleon took advantage of the total incompetence of Louis XVIII, the new Bourbon monarch, and marched on France. Louis XVIII, who had decided to keep fiercely Napoleonic military units together, to stew in their rage and to declare undying oaths to their emperor and who had further decided to completely disband half the military without giving them adequate compensation.

It was no wonder that someone of Louis XVIII's genius had an equally brilliant plan for dealing with Napoleon's return, and the defection of all the armies from Louis XVIII to Napoleon. Led by several advisers, including Chateaubriand, the Romantic of the time, Louis XVIII actually decided that his best plan was to stay in Paris and, with the Chambers of Peers and deputies on back-up, shame Napoleon into withdrawing.

Needless to say, Louis XVIII abandoned this plan in favor of running off to Switzerland instead.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

After all, it's impossible to govern a nation with 246 kinds of cheese....

August 4, 1789 was a very busy day for the National Assembly. After several months of increasingly vitriolic debate, the assembly very abruptly decided well, hell, debate isn't working at all, let's just dismantle the government the way we dismantled the Bastille! (Though, to their credit, they did not dismantle the monarchy because they thought there were gunpowder hidden inside, like some sort of very explosive pinata, the way the Parisian mob stormed the Bastille.) The Assembly went into extraordinary session to formally abolish all remaining traces of feudalism. Deputies "weeping tears of joy" renounced all offending rights and aristocratic or ecclesiastic privilege, from the payment of church tithes, to the difference in levels of taxation that had provoked a good deal of class hatred to the local landlord's right to have his peasants spending their nights in near-by swamps, hitting frogs with sticks so that their lord's slumbers would not be disturbed.

Abbé Sieyès, author of 'What is the Third Estate?' (answer: about to have its representatives take over the government), and the comte de Mirabeau, pretty much the driving force of the early revolutionary movement, were not in tears of joy. In fact, hey took a walk together the next morning, mostly to complain that the Assembly had not followed their advice or obeyed their wishes. Mirabeau complained, "This is just the character of our Frenchmen, they are three months disputing about syllables, and in a single night they overturn the whole venerable edifice of the monarchy."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

So sayeth one observer: "Far surpasses a cockfight!"

The 18th century is often remembered as a time of propriety and manners, but one should not apply that to 18th century legislative branches. Though the British Parlement was probably the worst when it came to political debates that degenerated into vicious personal attacks (cane fights from the 1776 Continental Congress aside) but the French National Assembly had some doozies.

During one particular debate over the influence of Paris in the National Assembly, Robespierre, a representative of Paris, attempted to take the tribune and defend his constitutants. The Girodins, who were very tired of the undue influence of one city on the governing body of an entire country, drowned out his speech with cries of "Censure him! Lynch him!" At this point, the Jacobins and the other representatives of Paris leapt to their feet and the debate dissolved into factional squabbling, personal remarks, the president ringing the bell for order until the bell literally broke in his hand, and, best of all, Marat outdoing himself with what the offical minutes euphamistically refer to as, "unacademic phrases."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Even Simon Schama has budget cuts this year....

One of the more amusing parts of history is, in fact, how it is presented. After nearly a year of blog posts, it has probably come to your attention, Gentle Reader, that the Amateur Historian has a certain sympathy for the French Revolution, and thus, a certain amusement with British historiography on said Revolution.

One of the chief offenders, in the Amateur Historian's POV, is Simon Schama, a conservative historian who likes to make slightly bizarre programs on history for the BBC, where he demonstrates his inability to keep still or speak in anything but a monotone more than any actual grasp of history. The Amateur Historian thus would like to present this parody of Simon Schama, just to start off the New Year with a few laughs at historiography, and not just history itself: