Friday, August 31, 2007

Arabic Apothegm

He who knows not and knows not he knows not, he is a fool -- shun him;
He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is simple -- teach him;
He who knows and knows not he knows, he is asleep -- wake him.
He who knows and knows he knows, he is wise -- follow him.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Frightening coincidences

One of the benefits of having many books going at the same time, as I usually do, is that you occassionally come across coincidences of material that shed light upon one another.

Yesterday morning I read this tale from Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes regarding Mary Wolstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein .
During the summer of 1816 Byron and Shelley were neighbors on the shores of the lake of Geneva. The two poets, together with Byron's friend Dr. John Polidori and Shelley's companions, Mary Godwin and her stepsister Claire Clairmont, spent many an evening conversing. One night Byron initated a discussion of ghosts and the supernatural. . . . Byron suggested that all of them write their own ghost stories. From this evening emerged an effort begun by Byron about the ruins of Ephesus, never completed; a tale by Polidori eventually published as The Vampyre; and, by the seventeen year-old Mary, the tale of Frankenstein - a story that probably has frightened more people and led to more spin-offs than any other ghost story in the world.

Yesterday afternoon I dipped into Charles Pellegrino's Ghosts of Vesuvius and came across this information about that summer.
Throughout the world, the "years without a summer" that followed the eruption of Tambora in 1815 are legendary after nearly two generations. Indonesia's Tambora explosion (which deposited ash layers in the ice of the North and South Poles) had visited July frosts and snow flurries upon New England. . . . From California to Italy to China, the volcanic winter was felt and recorded. In Europe, the false winter ruined the honeymoon of a young poet and his eighteen-year-old bride, driving them indoors from the shores of Lake Geneva. Between hours of marital bliss, while "confined for days," the bride wrote of "the uncongenial summer," during which she took up a challenge "to make-up a ghost story." The bride's name was Mary Shelley, and the story she wrote was titled Frankenstein, Or, the Modern Prometheus .

Author and Illustrator Birthdays

August 27th
C.S. Forester, British author born in Cairo, Egypt in 1899. Famous for his Horatio Hornblower series of novels based on a semi-fictional English sea captain fighting in the Napoleonic wars as well as his novel The African Queen later made into a movie by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Many of his books would be appealing to Young Adult readers interested in adventure and maritime history.

Arlene Mosel, American author born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio in 1921. She was a librarian by profession and wrote two very well received picture books for children. Tikki Tikki Tembo came out in 1968 and won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for picture books. The story is a retelling of a Chinese folktale as to why short names are now preferred in China. The Funny Little Woman was published in 1973, winning the Caldecott Medal. Both books were illustrated by Blair Lent. Another Asian folktale, this one from Japan, recounting the (mis)adventures of a dumpling maker and her ultimate good fortune.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Anecdote: Henry Fielding (1707 - 1754)

from Bartlett's Book of Anecdotes.

When he was once in the company of the Earl of Denbigh, whose family name was Feilding, the conversation turned to Fielding's membership in the same family. The earl inquired why the names were spelled differently. Fielding replied that he could give no reason, "except maybe that my branch of the family was the first to know how to spell."

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches

Struwwel Peter
by Heinrich Hoffmann

The Dreadful Story of Pauline and the Matches

Mamma and Nurse went out one day,
And left Pauline alone at play;
Around the room she gayly sprung,
Clapp'd her hands, and danced, and sung.
Now, on the table close at hand,
A box of matches chanced to stand,
And kind Mamma and Nurse had told her,
That if she touched them they would scold her;
But Pauline said, "Oh, what a pity!
For, when they burn, it is so pretty;
They crackle so, and spit, and flame;
And Mamma often burns the same.
I'll just light a match or two
As I have often seen my mother do."


When Minz and Maunz, the pussy-cats, heard this
They held up their paws and began to hiss. -
"Meow!!" they said, "me-ow, me-o!
You'll burn to death, if you do so,
Your parents have forbidden you, you know."

But Pauline would not take advice,
She lit a match, it was so nice!
It crackled so, it burned so clear, -
Exactly like the picture here.
She jumped for joy and ran about,
And was too pleased to put it out.


When Minz and Maunz, the little cats, saw this,
They said, "Oh, naughty, naughty Miss!""
And stretched their claws,
And raised their paws;
"Tis very, very wrong, you know;
Me-ow, me-o, me-ow, me-o!
You will be burnt if you do so,
our mother has forbidden you, you know."

Now see! oh! see, what a dreadful thing
The fire has caught her apron-string;
Her apron burns, her arms, her hair;
She burns all over, everywhere.


Then how the pussy-cats did mew
What else, poor pussies, could they do?
They screamed for help, 'twas all in vain,
So then, they said, "We'll scream again.
Make haste, make haste! me-ow! me-o!
She'll burn to death,- we told her so."

So she was burnt with all her clothes,
And arms and hands, and eyes and nose;
Till she had nothing more to lose
Except her little scarlet shoes;
And nothing else but these was found
Among her ashes on the ground.


And when the good cats sat beside
The smoking ashes, how they cried!
"Me-ow me-o! ! Me-ow, me-oo! !
What will Mamma and Nursy do?"
Their tears ran down their cheeks so fast.
They made a little pond at last.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sampler: Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Rain, Steam and Speed The Great Western Railway by J.M.W. Turner, 1844

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Having won twenty guineas at whist, and taken leave of his friends, Phileas Fogg, at twenty-five minutes past seven, left the Reform Club.

Passepartout, who had conscientiously studied the programme of his duties, was more than surprised to see his master guilty of the inexactness of appearing at this unaccustomed hour; for, according to rule, he was not due in Saville Row until precisely midnight.

Mr. Fogg repaired to his bedroom, and called out, "Passepartout!"

Passepartout did not reply. It could not be he who was called; it was not the right hour.
"Passepartout!" repeated Mr. Fogg, without raising his voice.

Passepartout made his appearance.

"I've called you twice," observed his master.

"But it is not midnight," responded the other, showing his watch.

"I know it; I don't blame you. We start for Dover and Calais in ten minutes."

A puzzled grin overspread Passepartout's round face; clearly he had not comprehended his master.

"Monsieur is going to leave home?"

"Yes," returned Phileas Fogg. "We are going round the world."

Passepartout opened wide his eyes, raised his eyebrows, held up his hands, and seemed about to collapse, so overcome was he with stupefied astonishment.

"Round the world!" he murmured.

"In eighty days," responded Mr. Fogg. "So we haven't a moment to lose."

"But the trunks?" gasped Passepartout, unconsciously swaying his head from right to left.

"We'll have no trunks; only a carpet-bag, with two shirts and three pairs of stockings for me, and the same for you. We'll buy our clothes on the way. Bring down my mackintosh and traveling-cloak, and some stout shoes, though we shall do little walking. Make haste!"

Passepartout tried to reply, but could not. He went out, mounted to his own room, fell into a chair, and muttered: "That's good, that is! And I, who wanted to remain quiet!"

He mechanically set about making the preparations for departure. Around the world in eighty days! Was his master a fool? No. Was this a joke, then? They were going to Dover; good! To Calais; good again! After all, Passepartout, who had been away from France five years, would not be sorry to set foot on his native soil again. Perhaps they would go as far as Paris, and it would do his eyes good to see Paris once more. But surely a gentleman so chary of his steps would stop there; no doubt-- but, then, it was none the less true that he was going away, this so domestic person hitherto!

By eight o'clock Passepartout had packed the modest carpet-bag, containing the wardrobes of his master and himself; then, still troubled in mind, he carefully shut the door of his room, and descended to Mr. Fogg.

Mr. Fogg was quite ready. Under his arm might have been observed a red-bound copy of Bradshaw's Continental Railway Steam Transit and General Guide, with its timetables showing the arrival and departure of steamers and railways. He took the carpet-bag, opened it, and slipped into it a goodly roll of Bank of England notes, which would pass wherever he might go.

"You have forgotten nothing?" asked he.

"Nothing, monsieur."

"My mackintosh and cloak?"

"Here they are."

"Good! Take this carpet-bag," handing it to Passepartout. "Take good care of it, for there are twenty thousand pounds in it."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Look and Learn

© Look and Learn Magazine Ltd

England in the 1960's and 70's had some wonderful hybrid children's magazines. By hybrid I mean that they typically carried both standard comic book type material but also carried weightier strips that were informative and well illustrated.

I subscribed for many years to a long since defunct magazine World of Wonder. One of it's competitors was Look and Learn, also long since having passed into memory.

I see that some group has now purchased the rights to the old Look and Learn magazine and are republishing it. As they describe it you can subscribe for "24 or 48 issues of the best of the original Look and Learn, printed to have the same look and feel as the original. Spanning history, legend, literature, art, philosophy, nature, science and geography, the best of Look and Learn showcases the work of the brilliant illustrators and writers who worked on the original magazine over the course of its 20 year run. It also contains a number of extraordinary comic strips, including Don Lawrence's famous ‘The Rise and Fall of the Trigan Empire'."

If you are an old anglophile (or a new one for that matter), love old-style children's magazines, or want worthwhile reading material in comic magazine format, you might want to visit the Look and Learn website to consider subscribing.


The Monument that Became a Ship
© Look and Learn Magazine Ltd

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cinderella's fur slipper

Painting by Millicent Sowerby 1915

From the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911):

CINDERELLA (i.e. little cinder girl), the heroine of an almost universal fairy-tale. Its essential features are (1) the persecuted maiden whose youth and beauty bring upon her the jealousy of her step-mother and sisters, (2) the intervention of a fairy or other supernatural instrument on her behalf, (3) the prince who falls in love with and marries her. In the English version, a translation of Perrault's Cendrillon, the glass slipper which she drops on the palace stairs is due to a mistranslation of pantoufle en vair (a fur slipper), mistaken for en verre. It has been suggested that the story originated in a nature-myth, Cinderella being the dawn, oppressed by the night-clouds (cruel relatives) and finally rescued by the sun (prince).

Monday, August 13, 2007

I must go down to the seas again, the lonely sea . . .

Painting by Montague Dawson (1895-1973)

Sea Fever
by John Masefield (1878 - 1967)

I MUST go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face, and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way, where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

Monday, August 6, 2007

There is a tide in the affairs of men . . .

Haley's comet seen in the Bayeaux Tapestry completed in 1083

On the day Mark Twain was born, November 30, 1835, Haley's Comet was visible in the sky.

Seventy five years later, Mark Twain passed away on April 21, 1910, just as Haley's comet returned.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Blind Men and the Elephant by John G. Saxe

A Japanese Print

Based on an old Indian fable

The Blind Men and the Elephant
by John G. Saxe

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The first approached the elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl,
"God bless me! but the elephant
Is very like a wall!"

The second, feeling of the tusk
Cried, "Ho! what have we here,
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me `tis mighty clear
This wonder of an elephant
Is very like a spear!"

The third approached the animal,
And, happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up he spake,
"I see," quoth he, "the elephant
Is very like a snake!"

The fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
"What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"Tis clear enough the elephant
Is very like a tree!"

The fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most.
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an elephant
Is very like a fan!"

The sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope.
"I see," quoth he, "the elephant
Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an elephant
Not one of them has seen!