WPA posters: Zion National Park

I like these old WPA posters. Here’s one in the national park series:

Of course, nowadays they have a website and all that.

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Moonwalking with Einstein

A few years ago I read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer. A journalist covers a memory competition, gets talked into competing in the next year’s competition, and becomes the reigning American memory champion.

It’s an entertaining introduction to the ancients’ memory techniques, centered on the concept of the “memory palace”. I use a simple version of this technique all the time nowadays. This past Saturday I needed to head into Meijer’s to buy headphones, ice cube trays, fans, and breakfast meat. Once I figured out that the rap star Ice Cube was buying headphones for all his fans to use while eating breakfast (the picture is my dreadlocked kids sitting around the dining room table eating bacon & sausage while listening to the Collected Works of O’Shea Jackson, Sr. through their new headphones), there was no way I’d forget the list. Indeed, I still remember it verbatim.

The great modern books on ancient and medieval memory are:

The three ancient sources are:

The Cloyd House in Bement

I stumbled over some clues here this weekend, and subsequent googling led to the Abraham Lincoln presidential library in Springfield, where the papers of William G. Cloyd and Bryan Wilson, our house’s first two owners, are stored.

The house was built for/by Judge Cloyd, who with his wife Lillian McKinney Cloyd raised six children, one of whom, Margaret Mary, married Bryan Wilson, a lawyer from St. Louis. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson moved into her childhood home in Bement and lived here until their deaths in the mid-1970s. The house was vacant and decaying until 1979, when Ron and Dee Mulvaney it and spent 25 years fixing up the place and raising their children. We bought the house from them in January 2004.

So now we need to plan a trip to Springfield to look through the Cloyd/Wilson papers.

An 1891 biographical notice about William G. Cloyd:

William G. Cloyd. The legal profession is constantly attracting to it men of ability and shrewdness, gifted with eloquence and a deep insight to technicalities and obscure points of the law. The bar of Piatt County numbers among its most talented representatives Judge Cloyd, whose title was fairly earned by long and honorable service as judge of this county. He was born in Kenton County, Ky., Oct. 5, 1848, and was only four years old when he was taken by his parents to Pike County, Mo. There he passed his youth, receiving a common-school education and coming thence in June, 1865 to Decatur, Ill., where for about four years he was engaged in teaching.

In 1869 Mr. Cloyd began the study of the law and two years later was admitted to practice at the bar. Locating in Bement, he has since been a resident of this thriving city and has been deeply interested in its progress. In June, 1879, he was elected Judge of Piatt County, to fill a vacancy caused by the death of Judge William McReynolds. That he filled the position to the satisfaction of the people is shown by the fact that he was re-elected in November, 1882, and served until 1887, being an incumbent of the office about seven and one-half years. Politically, he is a strong Democrat, and is prominent in the ranks of that party. Sine he retired from the judgeship he has devoted his time and attention almost exclusively to the legal profession and his eminent ability in that direction is widely recognized.

The marriage of Judge Cloyd and Miss Lillian McKinny, daughter of the late I. R. McKinny, was solemnized in Monticello, this state, and of their happy union two children have been born – Candace and Walter. Mr. and Mrs. Cloyd are highly esteemed throughout the community where they reside and by their social and benevolent dispositions have become endeared to all who know them.

Lake Tahoe, 1873

From Isabella Bird’s epistolary A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains:

I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one’s life and sigh. Not lovable, like the Sandwich Islands, but beautiful in its own way! A strictly North American beauty — snow-splotched mountains, huge pines, red-woods, sugar pines, silver spruce; a crystalline atmosphere, waves of the richest color; and a pine-hung lake which mirrors all beauty on its surface. Lake Tahoe is before me, a sheet of water twenty-two miles long by ten broad, and in some places 1,700 feet deep. It lies at a height of 6,000 feet, and the snow-crowned summits which wall it in are from 8,000 to 11,000 feet in altitude. The air is keen and elastic. There is no sound but the distant and slightly musical ring of the lumberer’s axe.

Isabella Lucy Bird Bishop

Isabella Bird’s 1898 book Korea and Her Neighbors sounds especially interesting as the 1950 Korean War comes to a hopeful end:

BISHOP, ISABELLA (1832-1904), English traveller and author, daughter of the Rev. Edward Bird, rector of Tattenhall, Cheshire, was born in Yorkshire on the 15th of October 1832. Isabella Bird began to travel when she was twenty-two.

Her first book, The Englishwoman in America (1856), consisted of her correspondence during a visit to Canada undertaken for her health. She visited the Rocky Mountains, the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, producing some brightly written books of travel. But her reputation was made by the records of her extensive travels in Asia: Unbeaten Tracks in Japan (2 vols., 1880), Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan (2 vols., 1891), Among the Tibetans (1894), Korea and her Neighbours (2 vols., 1898), The Yangtze Valley and Beyond (1899), Chinese Pictures (1900).

She married in 1881 Dr John Bishop, an Edinburgh physician, and was left a widow in 1886. In 1892 she became the first lady fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and in 1901 she rode a thousand miles in Morocco and the Atlas Mountains. She died in Edinburgh on the 7th of October 1904.

See Anna M. Stoddart, The Life of Isabella Bird (1906).

From the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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The empire’s last book

The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica was published just three years before the suicide of Europe began. Here’s The Guardian’s bookblogger on the 1911 EB:

Representing a peak of colonial optimism before the slaughter of war, the 1910/11 edition has acquired an almost mythic reputation among collectors.

As the last sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica prepare to sink into obscurity, there’s one edition that will always remain a collector’s item: the 11th.

Published between 1910 and 1911, the 11th edition continues to inspire a religious reverence from its loyal adherents. The siren call of its 28 leather-bound volumes works a subtle magic on antiquarians, historians, booksellers, and scholars around the world.

Continue reading…

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Gamboge

Gamboge is my current favorite color:

Quoth our hard-working Oxford English Dictionary:

Gamboge (gæmbōu·dʒ, -būdʒ). Forms: (7 cambugium, gambaugium, -bugia, cambodia, 7-8 cambogium, 8 gambogia, -bozia, -boidea, -bogium), 8 gumbouge, 9 camboge, 8- gambouge, gamboge, (Dicts. gambooge).

[ad. mod. L. gambogium etc. (now in pharmacy cambogia), f. various forms of the name of Cambodia, the district in Annam from which the substance is obtained. The deriv. is given by Dampier in 1699 (Suppl. to Voy. round World, vi. 105).]

1. A gum-resin obtained from various trees of the genis Garcinia, natives of Cambodia, Siam, etc. It is largely used as a pigment, giving a bright yellow colour, and also as a drastic purgative in medicine.

[ 1634 J. Bate Myst. Nat. 126 Take saffron or Cambugium. 1635Bk. Extrav. 210 Orpiment and gambaugium are both very good yellows. 1688 R. Holme Armoury II. 85/2 Cambugia, whither Gum, or Juice dried, is not certain.] 1712 tr. Pomet’s Hist. Drugs I. 178 Gamboge ought to be chosen of a bright yellow Colour a little inclining to Red. 1772-84 Cook Voy. (1790) I. 224 It yields a bright yellow resin, that resembles gumbouge. 1821 Craig Lect. Drawing v. 310 The whole picture or drawing must be washed over with a mixture of Venetian red and gambouge. 1863 Baring-Gould Iceland 208 The guest room walls are painted gamboge to a height of three feet. 1876 Bartholomew Mat. Med. (1879) 475 Gamboge is rarely prescribed alone as a cathartic.

b. The plant from which gamboge is obtained.

1876 Harley Mat. Med. (ed. 6) 698 The Gamboge is native of Siam and Cochin-China.

2. attrib., as gamboge-plant, -resin, -tree, -yellow.

1837 Penny Cycl. VII 367/2 The chin and throat gamboge-yellow. 1838 Ibid. XI. 68/1 The true gamboge-tree of Ceylon has been determined to belong to a new genus named Hebradendron. Ibid. XII 90/2 A plant .. which he thought might be the gamboge plant, as it contained a yellow purgative juice in the rind of its fruit. 1885 G. S. Forbes Wild Life in Canara 42 The same gamboge resin distills from both [wild and cultivated mangosteen] trees.

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New weapons, old medicine

From Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman:

Here was an inescapable irony of the Civil War, not known in any conflict between men before or since: the fact that this was a war fought with new and highly effective weapons, machines for the mowing down of men—and yet at a time when an era of poor and primitive medicine was just coming to an end. It was fought with the mortar and the musket and the minié ball, but not yet quite with anesthesia or with sulphonamides and penicillin. The common soldier was thus in a poorer position than at any time before: he could be monstrously ill-treated by all the new weaponry, and yet only moderately well-treated with all the old medicine.

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The sources of new knowledge

On the contemplation of old knowledge:

New knowledge, when to any purpose, must come by contemplation of old knowledge, in every matter which concerns thought; mechanical contrivance sometimes, not very often, escapes this rule. All the men who are now called discoverers, in every matter ruled by thought, have been men versed in the minds of their predecessors and learned in what had been before them. There is not one exception.

—Augustus de Morgan, A Budget of Paradoxes

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1880 urban apocalypse

William Delisle Hay is perhaps best known for his immortal works An Elementary Text-Book of British Fungi (Illustrated) and The South Sea islanders and the Queensland labour trade, a record of voyages and experiences in the Western Pacific, from 1875 to 1891 (which actually sounds interesting).

He also wrote a sci-fi environmental apocalypse, the 1880 novella The Doom of the Great City, written as a letter from the sole survivor to his grandchildren in 1942.

Scarcely can I portray in words the dire and dismal scenes that met my vision here. … For here, where on the previous night had throbbed hot and high the flood-tide of London’s evening gaiety, was now presented to my poor fevered sight, the worst, the most awful features of the whole terrific calamity. I had entered into the very heart and home of horror itself.

And so on. Read the fascinating article at The Public Domain Review.

Tags: books

A sea fret, or haar

Fr Hunwicke mentioned a “sea fret” recently, and I imagined him looking through some wrought-iron latticework near the shore:

If you don’t know Ramsgate, as I didn’t, you should follow my lead and remedy the omission (preferably during S Augustine’s Week). I peered out through the sea fret almost hoping to see a phantasma of S Augustine’s boat bringing the purest Roman Christianity to the people of Kent; then i looked round the Church which now houses a relic of the Saint. Forgive me for going all wet on you, but I felt a great sense of being ’in on’ the foundation of the English Church, a millennium and a half ago.

Helen Dalby, an editor at Chronicle Live, based in Newcastle, explains that the Northeast of England in particular sees so many sea frets, or haars, because they’re on the shore of the freezing North Sea. When warm wet air passes over a cold surface, you get a cold wet fog.

Mulier Fortis, in Ramsgate, writes about her own experience of a sea fret:

Living across the road from the beach means that, since my relocation, I have had ample opportunity to experience “proper” fog. I love it - especially the way it deadens sounds… everything goes so quiet… and watching a bank of fog approach over the water is really fascinating! And then there is the disconcerting (and, to me, thrilling…) experience of being unable to see what is just the other side of the road… or even as far as the waterline…

Fortunately, the Venerable Editors of the Oxford English Dictionary noticed the word haar, from an Old Norse word meaning hoary:

Haar (hēɹ). local. Also harr, haur. [? a. ON. hárr, hoar, hoary: cf. hoar-frost.] A wet mist or fog; esp. applied on the east coast of England and Scotland, from Lincolnshire northwards, to a cold sea-fog.

  • 1671 Skinner Etym. Ling. Angl., A Sea Harr, Lincolniensibus Maritimis Tempestas à mari ingruens.
  • 1777 Nimmo Hist. Stirlingsh. 438 In the months of April and May, easterly winds, commonly called Haars, usually blow with great violence, especially in the afternoons.
  • 1806 Gazetteer Scotl. (ed. 2) 389 The water of the lake [Loch Ness] .. never freezes in the severest winter, and, in frosty weather, is covered with a thick haar or mist, which has the appearance of smoke.
  • 1876 Whitby Gloss., Haar, mist with small rain. ’A northern harr Brings fine weather from far.’
  • 1889 N.W. Linc. Gloss. (ed. 2), Har, fog, mist, especially when it is cold.
  • 1892 Stevenson Across the Plains 171 History broods over that part of the world like the easterly haar.

The macaroni and cheese of America

Here’s a great little essay on the meaning of macaroni and cheese along with the bits of history you expect from the Smithsonian.

An expert with the kayak and javelin

From a fascinating book cited in the Oxford English Dictionary’s entry for “iceman”:

Feeling that our dogs would require fresh provisions, which could hardly be spared from our supplies on shipboard, I availed myself of Mr. Lassen’s influence to obtain an Esquimaux hunter for our party. He recommended to me one Hans Christian, a boy of nineteen, as an expert with the kayak and javelin; and after Hans had given me a touch of his quality by spearing a bird on the wing, I engaged him. He was fat, good-natured, and, except under the excitements of the hunt, as stolid and unimpressible as one of our own Indians. He stipulated that, in addition to his very moderate wages, I should leave a couple of barrels of bread and fifty-two pounds of pork with his mother; and I became munificent in his eyes when I added the gift of a rifle and a new kayak. We found him very useful; our dogs required his services as a caterer, and our own table was more than once dependent on his energies. — Arctic Explorations in Search of Sir John Franklin: Elisha Kent Kane, M.D., USN; London, 1877.

Wycliffe’s Middle English

Wycliffe’s Bible is a treasury of Middle-English poetic prose from the late 14th century, and now the 1850 Oxford University Press edition in four volumes is online:

  • Volume 1: Preface; list of manuscripts; Genesis to Ruth
  • Volume 2: I Kings to Psalms
  • Volume 3: Proverbs to II Maccabees
  • Volume 4: Matthew to Revelation; additional prologues; calendar of lessons, epistles and Gospels; glossary

The OUP edition presents two versions of the Wycliffe Bible: an earlier one more directly attributable to Wycliffe; and a later revision that was simplified and flattened in the few bits I’ve checked.