Thursday, May 31, 2012

If you want the basket, put the kittens in the brass thing.

Robbing famously witty authors is always a bad idea, though it does give the authors a chance to display their satirical talents. The notice here is from Mark Twain, who was robbed of his silverware on September 8th, 1908. After the burglars were caught, Twain commissioned this notice to hang on his door.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Meet the Seventh Planet, George

The seventh planet, Uranus, was discovered at the end of the eighteenth century by the musician and amateur astronomer William Herschel. He was tentative about calling it a planet instead of comet until the Astronomer Royal had received confirmation of its existence and mathematical calculations of its orbit. The great problem then came of naming the first planet discovered since ancient times.

Herschel, who was a Hanoverian like George III, and who had recently received a royal appointment and yearly stipend from George III suggested naming it 'George's Star' or, in Latin, 'Georgium Sidus'. This was understandably unpopular with the world outside of Britain and the planet was eventually named after Greek mythology again: Uranus. 

Given how easily mispronounced the name 'Uranus' continues to be, perhaps 'George' isn't that bad a name for a planet.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dance 'the Albatross!'

On a lighter note, it seems that no one really understood The Ancient Mariner when it came out.

Most of the people who bought the first edition were sailors, thinking it was a naval song book.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Nightmare Life-in-Death was she

Coleridge recounted in Table Talk 1830-1832:

"Mrs Barbauld told me that the only faults she found with the Ancient Mariner were — that it was improbable and had no moral. As for the probability — to be sure that might admit some question — but I told her that in my judgment the poem had moral, and that too openly obtruded on the reader, It ought to have no more moral than the story of the merchant sitting down to eat dates by the side of a well and throwing the shells aside, and the Genii starting up and saying he must kill the merchant, because a date shell had put out the eye of the Genii's son."

This gains a very significant moral when one realizes that though are many nasty side-effects to European imperialism, one of the most unpleasant for Tahiti certainly was venereal disease. When Captain Cook arrived in Tahiti, he was aware that island sexual mores were very different from British ones and wrote about the previous British expedition to the South Seas in his journals. When the Dolphin left Polynesian waters, so many nails had been taken out of the timbers and traded for sexual favors, the ship almost split apart during a storm. This time the Tahitians got the much worse end of the deal with "the English disease."

Cook did not like to admit that his precautions to make sure the ship's crew were free from VDs were at fault and at first tried blaming the French of the Spanish. 'However,' he wrote in his journals, 'this is little satisfaction to them who must suffer by it in a very great degree and may in time spread itself over all the Islands of the South Seas, to the eternal reproach of those who first brought it among them'.

Coleridge turned the consequences back on the British in The Ancient Mariner. A two hundred man crew all dies (save for the Mariner, who shot the albatross that was later hung around his neck) after a run-in with Death and a lady named 'Life-in-Death.' What gift the lady gave the crew is therefore given is perhaps easy to guess.

In the words of Pangloss, it is a thing unavoidable.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The prune season is the best season

French Romantic/ Realist writers tended to want their lives as dramatic as their fiction and Balzac was no exception.

It took three passwords, each changed regularly, to gain entrance to Balzac’s home on the Rue des Batailles.For example, one could first have to go up to the porter and assure him that, “The prune season has arrived.”, then inform servant on the stairs that “I bring lace from Belgium.”, and, afterwards, assure the valet that “Madame Bertrand is in good health”.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tesla Time!

Do you, Gentle Reader, want to learn more about Nikola Tesla, the man who discovered the earth's resonant frequency and created ball lightening in his labratory like a contenstant from a two-player Ninendo fighting game? Check out this article by The Oatmeal on just how much Tesla invented.