Monday, April 30, 2012

Lord Byron Fun Fact!

Though, in reality, it is not really much fun unless you find physical deformity hilarious.

Lord Byron famously had somethng wrong with his foot but, however, he did not have a club-foot as popular accounts will have you believe! Historians have analyzed his boots and discovered that he really had a withered leg from birth. Byron enjoyed clothing said leg, and the other, healthy one in white linen trousers. He ordered dozens at a time and threw them out after being worn only once.

So the moral of this story, Gentle Readers, is if you wish to be a Romantic Poet and have a physical deformity of some kind, remember to clothe it well. Historians will pay an extraordinary amount of attention to whatever you leave behind, however, so conspicuous consumption can oddly maintain your privacy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thar she blows.

Soon after finishing Emma, Jane Austen's brother, Henry Austen got sick and got treated by the Prince of Wales's personal physician. Henry liked to brag about his clever sister and, despite Jane Austen's preference for anonymity, told his doctor that his sister was the author of Pride and Prejudice. The doctor passed on this information to the Prince Regent, who had a copy of all Austen's published works in each of his residences.

The end result was twofold: one, Jane Austen was invited to visit the Prince's librarian, who urged her multiple times to write a novel about himself, and two, said librarian conveyed to her His Royal Highness's permission to  dedicate her next to work to him. Austen's letters show she wasn't exactly thrilled about either idea, and she asked if it was “incumbent on [her] to shew her sense of the Honour” by dedicating Emma to the Prince Regent. The librarian replied with an emphatic, but politely phrased, yes. 

However, Austen got back the gallery prints and appears to have made a couple of changes to the novel to avail herself of her best and most perfect weapon: satire. This article phrases it more eloquently than the Amateur Historian ever could, but let us reflect a moment on the famous riddle in Emma: 

My first displays the wealth and pomp of kings,
Lords of the earth! their luxury and ease.
Another view of man, my second brings,
Behold him there, the monarch of the seas!

But, ah! united, what reverse we have!
Man’s boasted power and freedom, all are flown;
Lord of the earth and sea, he bends a slave,
And woman, lovely woman, reigns alone.

In the novel, Emma declares that the first two lines mean a 'ship' and the second means 'court'. A 'courtship' certainly answers to the purpose and furthers the plot, but look at the letters that begin each line: M, L, A, B and B, M, L, A. This is not a coincidence, but a reference to Charles Lamb, who had just written a very popular poem declaring the Prince Regent 'the Prince of Whales'.

This typical Lamb-pun thus gives us a second answer. The first two lines mean 'prince' and the second 'whales'. United, we have the Prince of Whales, who was more famous for his seductions than his statescraft, and the very subtle target of Jane Austen's amazingly clever wit. Clearly, the Prince of Whales ought to have thought twice before demanding Miss Austen dedicate a novel to him; she has skewered him more effectively than ever Captain Ahab did Moby Dick.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

How Punny

The poet Charles Lamb really loved puns. On one occasion, upon “being told that somebody had lampooned him,” he remarked, “Very well, I’ll Lamb-pun him!”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"The Conga" is about as silly a name as "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot"

Every savage can dance, but only the true gentleman can free-style disco while in period trousers.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The History of a Young Lady's Various Fits of Tears

Fanny Burney's Evelina is the novel that shot the author to fame, fortune, inclusion to all the best salons and membership to perhaps the most entertainingly named group of the late eighteenth century, 'the Witlings'. I therefore entered into the novel with only the minor qualm that I am not fond of epistolary novels.

When I finished the book and my kindle kindly asked me to rate the book, all I could think was, 'Meh.'

That is not to say the book was entirely without merit. There are sparkling parts of the text-- Burney is not as deft a hand at satire as Jane Austen, but she still does it remarkably well and she forms very entertaining and likeable characters, as long as they are not her hero and heroine. I had the same problem with the loving couple at the center of Evelina as with the lachremouse lovers Mrs. Radcliffe so unkindly inflicted on her readers in The Mysteries of Udolpho: the lady spent at least a third of the book crying, being silent or otherwise not speaking, displaying her personality or proving her worth as a human being, and the gentleman never actually seemed like a believable human being. I dislike the romances about equally: in Evelina, there heroine is so shy, quiet, awkward and embarrassed with most of her interactions with the hero that I simply couldn't believe that the hero could possibly form even a friendship with her, as he did, let alone a favorable impression of her and later a lasting devotion. Why should he? All she does is be embarrassed and uncomfortable around him. If it was an Austen novel, instead of a Burney one, I would be inclined to say that Evelina and her exemplary Lord Orville will soon get very bored with each other and have a very unhappy marriage. However, it is Burney, so Evelina will live on in silent, agitated, often tearful happiness to write long letters with perfect recall of hours-long conversations.

However, unlike The Mysteries of Udolpho, I hated the hero because he was Lord Honorable McBlandyPants and had no interesting flaws, foibles or indeed any part of his character that was not boringly perfect. The heroine was a little better than the weeping Emily; Evelina likewise resembles an ambulatory fountain that random gentlemen kept wanting to molest, but she makes a number of mistakes out of ignorance and then endeavors to correct them. She, at least, has a functioning brain.

The Amateur Historian did not feel the same antipathy she did towards The Mysteries of Udolpho, but, though I liked the satire quite a lot, and enjoyed the taste of late eighteenth century dialects, the heroine-narrator has the unfortunate tendency to sentimentalize and moralize over everyone she meets (except the hero who is always, and ever, a paragon of tedium and virtue). I, as a reader, prefer to draw my own conclusions and not have the author present to me what I ought to think. However, this is Burney's first novel, so I will not write her off entirely. Perhaps (after a judicious dose of Voltaire or Austen), I shall try Fanny Burney again.

Next time, one hopes to find a less soggy heroine.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I like Ike!

The Amateur Historian is, fortunately or unfortunately, an American and as plagued to death with the endless sufferage of the primary season as the rest of the country. However, it has given the Amateur Historian time to reflect on the necessity of a campaign slogan.

The human brain is wired for language and, in an odd turn, particularly susceptible to rhyme.

One such political rhyme destroyed the candidacy of one Henry Addington, 1rst Viscount Sidmouth in 1804. Addington, it must be admitted, did not have the greatest record while in office. He unsuccessfully attempted to sue for peace with Napoleon before giving up and declaring war on France again and was a terrible orator. Mind you, these were the days of Burke, Fox, Sheridan and Pitt, where gentlemen learnt to recite Horace in school; to be a bad orator was to be a bad politician. To be a bad politician meant one could not rally MPs to one's cause and therefore to lose one's bills and, thereafter, to lose the trust of the king.

When compared to Pitt's successions of pan-European coalitions, his renowned oratory and his successful management of the Houses of Parliament, Addington looked a poor figure indeed, giving rise to the epigram:

"London is to Paddington
as Pitt is to Addington."