Saturday, July 31, 2010

One week you're in, the next you're out: 1807

The Queen of Etruria (November):
When Bonaparte had ascended the imperial throne, it is reported that he sent Engenius de Beauharnais to ask the hand of the royal widow; who returned a polite refusal.

Secured from the fear of foreign enemies by the same hand that has overturned and created kingdoms, this Princess dedicates all the blooming hours of her youth to a strict performance of the duties of her station, and all her cares to the prosperity of her subjects and the education of her children.
--From La Belle assemblée--

The Queen of Etruria (December, 4th):
...yesterday evening, the queen (to whom other states are to be assigned) departed hence with a train of between forty and fifty carriages, containing baggage and private property; after which the Etrurians were discharged from their oath of allegiance, and the government declared to be dissolved...
--From American register--

Friday, July 30, 2010

Table manners: 1807

All ceremony should he banished among epicures, especially at table. This is a truth, which we shall never cease to repeat; the reason is not difficult to define. In the first place, when epicurism is thoroughly established among people who meet for the first time, a close intimacy soon succeeds, for no formality can long exist between real lovers of the table. A similitude of tastes is ever acknowledged the best basis for friendship to rest on; real epicures also are seldom known to quarrel; they leave coolness, and dissentions to lovers, and live together like true children of Epicurus.
--From La Belle assemblée--

Real sticklers, weren't they? Almost sound like hippies!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sermon of a carpenter: 1859

"Nay, Seth, lad; I'm not for laughing at no man's religion. Let 'em follow their consciences, that's all. Only I think it 'ud be better if their consciences 'ud let 'em stay quiet i' the church--there's a deal to be learnt there. And there's such a thing as being oversperitial; we must have something beside Gospel i' this world. Look at the canals, an' th' aqueduc's, an' th' coal-pit engines, and Arkwright's mills there at Cromford; a man must learn summat beside Gospel to make them things, I reckon. But t' hear some o' them preachers, you'd think as a man must be doing nothing all's life but shutting's eyes and looking what's agoing on inside him. I know a man must have the love o' God in his soul, and the Bible's God's word. But what does the Bible say? Why, it says as God put his sperrit into the workman as built the tabernacle, to make him do all the carved work and things as wanted a nice hand. And this is my way o' looking at it: there's the sperrit o' God in all things and all times--weekday as well as Sunday--and i' the great works and inventions, and i' the figuring and the mechanics. And God helps us with our headpieces and our hands as well as with our souls; and if a man does bits o' jobs out o' working hours--builds a oven for 's wife to save her from going to the bakehouse, or scrats at his bit o' garden and makes two potatoes grow istead o' one, he's doin' more good, and he's just as near to God, as if he was running after some preacher and a-praying and a-groaning."
--From Adam Bede--

Meaning has a way of overflowing anything you try to hold it in. It wont stay in a book, it wont stay in a painting; and if you look for it, it will cover you, and you will carry it everywhere you go and see it in everything you do.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cover girl: 1807

--From La Belle assemblée--

Every issue of La Belle assemblée had a beautiful woman on the cover, "photoshopped" in effect by an artist's hand. They were all celebrities, but also royalty and therefore politically powerful.

When your celebrities are movie stars I suppose you consider it fashionable to be informed of their latest movies. Likewise, when your celebrities are politicians, politics becomes fashionable for you.

How much of a person's "depth" is just just chasing after what is fashionable; chasing after stars?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Guerrilla warfare: 1779

My comrades, thought I, will laugh at me for alarming them by shooting a pig! I had almost resolved to let it alone, when, just as it approached the thicket, I thought I observed it give an unusual spring. I no longer hesitated:

I took my aim; discharged my piece; and the animal was instantly stretched before me with a groan which I conceived to be that of a human creature. I went up to it, and judge my astonishment, when I found that I had killed an Indian! He had enveloped himself with the skin of one of these wild hogs so artfully and completely; his hands and feet were so entirely concealed in it, and his gait and appearance were so exactly correspondent to that of the animal's, that, imperfectly as they were always seen through the trees and jungles, the disguise could not be penetrated at a distance, and scarcely discovered upon the nearest aspect. He was armed with a dagger and a tomahawk.
--From La Belle assemblée--

Women's magazines used to be a lot more interesting.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Living in a golden age: 1807


In 1807 they were looking back to the 15th century for helpful advice and inspiration. It sounds like a typical anti-male article, but sometimes when we look back in time we see the origins of things. This is how the story starts:
A Tradesman who lived in a village near St. Albans, had been twice married, and ill-treated his wives so as to cause their death. He sought a third, but as his brutality was well known in the place where he dwelt, he was obliged to go fifty miles off for a wife.

He obtained one, and after he brought her home, all the neighbours came to visit her, and acquaint her in what manner her husband used to treat his former wives. This somewhat surprised her, but she resolved to wait patiently till her lord and master might take it into his head to beat her. She did not wait long, for her husband was a terrible fellow.
--From La Belle assemblée--

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Youthful rebelion: circa 1750

He had an only son, destined to be of a still more extraordinary character than his father, and who, in his early youth, having run away from school, and turned chimney-sweeper, in his mature age renounced his country, and turned mahometan.
--From La Belle assemblée--

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Attack on the modern male: 1807

This lady composed the following vocabulary to express the character of a husband, from her own experience, and which proves how copious our language is on that article:—He is, said she, an abhorred, abominable, acrimonious, angry, arrogant...

...ireful, jealous, keen, loathsome, maggotty, malevolent, malicious...

...wrathful, yarring, yelping dug in a manger, who neither eats himself nor will let others eat.
--From La Belle assemblée--

I know it's fashionable in certain circles to decry society's seeming attack on all things male, but it doesn't seem that new. It may even be toned down a bit.

(I'm not saying it's healthy, just that it's not a modern problem.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

A concert for elephants: 1798

No sooner were the first sounds heard than Hans and Peggy, lending an ear, left off eating; they soon ran towards the place from whence the sounds proceeded. The opening over their heads, the instruments of a strange form, of which they only perceived the extremities, the men floating as it were in the air, the invisible harmony, for which they attempted to feel, with their trunks, the silence of the spectators, the immovable attitude of their carnac [handler], all at first appeared to them subjects of curiosity, wonder and apprehension.

They went round the trap-door, directing their trunks towards the opening, rising from time to time on their hind legs; approached their cornac, sought his caresses, returned with more uneasiness, gazed at the assistants, and seemed to examine whether there was not a snare laid for them. But those first emotions of fear were soon appeased, when they found every thing remained peaceable round them: then giving way without any mixture of dread to the impulse of sound, they seemed to feel no other sensations but what proceeded from the music.
--From La Belle assemblée--

Here are some examples of the music that was played for them:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Historical revisionism: 1807

I was one day reproaching a Spaniard, lately arrived from Buenos-Ayres, with the cruelties which his countrymen had committed on their first conquests in America. I recalled to mind, with horror, the crimes which had tarnished the glory of a Cortez, a Pizarro, and many other heroes who have, perhaps, by their talents and valour, surpassed all that we admire in the ancients; and regretted, that so glorious an epocha in the Spanish history should be recorded on blood-stained pages.
My friend had hitherto listened to me with patience; a tear rolled down his cheek...
...let us not reproach each other: we have all been barbarians, but leave to history the melancholy employment of recording the crimes of our forefathers...
--From La Belle assemblée--

How can it be historical revisionism to portray our forefathers as bad and horrible people if many of our forefathers would have agreed with the assessment?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Little black dress: 1807

--From La Belle assemblée--

Every dress in this magazine, from July to December, was white. They might have been hard to keep clean, but they sure were simple and versatile.

Can you imagine the changes that occurred in society for women's dress to change from this in 1807 to this in 1830?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Simpler times: 1830

--From Belle assemblée--

Pictured from left to right: a carriage dress, evening dress, and dinner dress. God help you if you went by carriage to someone's house, had dinner, and then stayed for the evening.

And think about ironing!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blowing bubbles: 1786

I have sometimes been amused with blowing bubbles with inflammable air, and by attaching to them a small circle of paper and fine thread or raw silk, could hold them suspended in the air for a considerable time. Another amusing experiment was to fix to the inflammable air-bubble a small flip of nitred paper, to the side of which and near the top a grain of gunpowder was annexed. The small end of the paper paper was lighted, and burning up to the gunpowder during its ascent, it exploded, and at the fame instant fired the inflammable air.
--From Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester--

Weaponized soap bubbles!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blowing bubbles: 1734

A childish diversion, that seems to have nothing in it but what is contemptible, gave Sir Isaac Newton the first idea of these recent truths which we are now to explain. Every thing to a philosopher should be a subject of meditation, and nothing despicable in his eyes. He perceived, that in those bubbles of soap and water blown by children...

--From The Works of M. de Voltaire--

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to stupidity is paved with disdain.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blowing bubbles: 1732

A Fool's Speech is a Bubble of Air.
--From Gnomologia--

And everyone is like children, chasing after them!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Blowing bubbles: 1886

Here is a picture of a young child blowing bubbles:

Notice the strange look to the eyes:

And the bubble blowing paraphernalia:

Bubbles: the gateway drug. (Parents, know the signs!)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blowing bubbles: 1704

If a Bubble be blown with Water first made tenacious by dissolving a little Soap in it, 'tis a common Observation, that after a while it will appear tinged with a great variety of Colours. To defend these Bubbles from being agitated by the external Air (whereby their Colours are irregularly moved one among another, so that no accurate Observation can be made of them,) as soon as I had blown any of them I cover'd it with a clear Glass, and by that means its Colours emerged in a very regular order, like so many concentrick Rings encompassing the top of the Bubble.
--From Opticks--

Soap bubbles were one of the experimental subjects which helped Newton develop his theories on the properties of light! Only kids play with them now, but they were like the particle accelerators of their day.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blowing bubbles: 1684

...and so like a company of Boys that blow Bubbles out of a Wall-nut shell, every one runs after his bubble...
--From Several tracts written by Sr Matthew Hale--

It sounds like children were taking halves of walnut shells, poking a hole in the back, dunking them in soapy water, and then blowing into the hole to create airborne soap bubbles. And it happened before 1684, because it was common enough then to be used as a simile in a religious text.

Perhaps they only used the walnut shell as a dish, of course walnut shells have a defined edge so they seem perfect for blowing bubbles in the modern sense.  Perhaps by "every one runs after" the author was speaking figuratively and not literally. Still, this seems like the best evidence for airborne bubbles I have seen so far.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Blowing bubbles: 1623

...we see it also in little Glasses of Spittle that children make of Rushes; And in Castles of Bubbles, which they make by blowing into water, having obtained a little Degree of Tenacity by Mixture of Soape...
--From Sylva sylvarum--

This is Francis Bacon talking about the properties of bubbles. He talks about them floating through water, floating on water, even being made with soap. But, he never talks about them floating through air. Even when he is describing children playing with them, they sound like foam that was contained in a bowl. So, I don't think bubbles where airborne at this point!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Blowing bubbles: 1663

Bubbles are weird toys, but at least they don't cost much (and they don't get you dirty!).

Sunday, July 11, 2010


A: "Can you believe he was spending all his time looking at heliocentric models?"

B: "Thank goodness it was encrypted in Latin, so a child couldn't understand it!"

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Peace in the Middle East: 1933

I don't know how long they think the Arabs would suffer a single Jew to exist once the English went.
--From The Road to Oxiana--

Just a reminder that things weren't very different before the Israeli government was around.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Clocks: 1685

Yea verily, the Creator of this beautiful World, who is the Master of this Clock-work, hath pointed us to and given us such a way, by means of which we may know when this Clockwork will have accomplished its Period, or when this World (which comprehends in it self all the Wheels of this Clock-work) will have wholly wrought out it self to its own perfection in one onely harmony, as well above as below, in order to the attaining of her proper exaltation and glorification.
--From The Paradoxal Discourses of F. M. Van Helmont--

When you hear people talk about how the world used to be viewed as a watch and God as a watch-maker, they always seem to describe the analogy condescendingly. Using the term "watch" makes it sound as if people had an unrealistic view of the size of the universe, like everything could fit in your pocket. But reading the analogy as it was used early on, with it's archaic language, use of the term "clocks" (so much bigger than watches!), and the idea that everything would eventually stop, seems a heck of a lot more religious to me.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Music videos: 1685

A good music video has a lead singer, back up singers, dancing, exotic sets, and a narrative. It's actually kind of weird that they don't put more opera music into music video format:


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

So, which one's the wife? :1685

Question: Why are the cool Lights Female, or Night-lights?

Response: Because the Moon and Stars which are cool Night-lights, rule in the night; and for that the Night is the Days Wife.
--From The Paradoxal Discourses of F. M. Van Helmont--

1. What does it say about a person's view of relationships when they ask such a question?

2. With the way modern sex relations are, would it not be advisable to ask this question of straight couples (late at night, when they're tipsy)?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth of July: 1892

The boys were loaded with explosives.
Which they let off.
In his immediate personal neighborhood.
Fire-crackers especially.
And he jumped.
And howled.
And cursed Young America, as he had cursed it a thousand times before.
But there was no escape for him.
They improvised a band.
And they played Yankee Doodle.
And Hail Columbia.

--From A Quiet Fourth of July--

Notice that the boys appear to be shooting guns into the air:

So "explosives" probably is the proper term to use.

Here's Hail Columbia, which almost no one now-a-days could identify (We use it for Vice-Presidential entrances, poor thing!):

And here's Yankee Doodle:

Imagine people spontaneously playing this music, shooting off explosives, not standing passively watching a parade, and you will realize how much different the fourth of July used to be.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lassie: 1868

A draper at Tungkwan had a black dog, who was sagacious and fond of his master. On one occasion the draper while returning from market, where he had been selling his cloth, was attacked, robbed, and half killed. The dog followed the thief, and never left him until he went into a house, when the sagacious animal ran to his master's brother and made so many extraordinary demonstrations that the brother was induced to follow the dog and was led to the spot where the wounded man lav. The dog still appeared dissatisfied and eventually induced the draper's brother to follow him to the house of the thief. When they reached it the dog pinned the thief by the leg, the cloth was found in the house and the rascal was thus brought to justice.
--From The China Magazine--

I can't tell if this really happened, but I know people like these type of stories. They like imagining their pets as intelligent, almost human. Isn't this vanity? If your dog likes you, and your dog is intelligent, that means you must be good because an intelligent creature likes you. I suppose this also explains the "my child is so smart"  phenomenon, and it probably carries over to people's feeling about their friends.

Everyone I like probably isn't as nice as I think they are!

Friday, July 2, 2010

The information age: 1868

I found it as difficult as I dare say every one else did, to learn anything authentic about Hongkong before I left England. There was plenty of information to be obtained, but each new fact was so entirely at variance with the last, that the result was a state of unutterable confusion. There was plenty of information to be obtained, but each new fact was so entirely at variance with the last, that the result was a state of unutterable confusion. I may classify my informants and say that they were of three kinds—those who invented all they told me, those who exaggerated all they told me, and those who only told me half the truth.
--From The China Magazine--

Before the internet came along people had an easier time finding reliable information, because they could simply look it up in fact-checked books or read it in newspapers produced by professional journalists.