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Posted in Boats, Historical articles, Sea, Ships, Travel on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about sailing originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 264 published on 4 February 1967.
Arab "Dhows" on the Red Sea
I stepped back in history a thousand years or more, once, and sailed in Eastern seas much as the ancients did. The year was 1938-39. Like many other seafarers, I had often noticed swift Arab dhows in Red Sea ports such as Djibouti, Jiddah, Port Sudan, and in Aden. By mid-1938, when sailing-ships were becoming very scarce for Europeans to sail in, I decided to go to Arabia and sail with these dhows. I could find no record that any European had bothered to learn much about them since the days of Marco Polo.
I found the native port of Ma’alla, by the Crater in Aden, a fascinating place. Ma’alla beach had probably changed little since the Queen of Sheba passed by. It was packed with swift-lined, graceful little sailing-ships, distinctive with their raking masts, colourful built-up sterns (though some were ‘double-enders’ i.e., pointed each end), complete lack of modern improvements, and sturdy dark crews. Europeans called all these ships ‘dhows’ and left them alone.
On the smelly beach were larger vessels, too, big ships of 200 and 300 tons. These, I was told, traded to India and down the coast of East Africa. Some carried pilgrims into the Red Sea, to land at Jiddah for the Moslem pilgrimage to Mecca. One or two were Indian. Most carried flags with strange devices, red ensigns decorated with some passage in Arabic from the Koran, or crossed swords, or simply Arabic words for EL-KUWAIT.
There were over 2,000 such dhows around the coasts of Arabia then, and several hundred of them lay on, at, or off Ma’alla. Others were being built or repaired there by craftsmen who could have shared Christ’s workshop and His tools. At little stone quays or at anchorages, a profusion of dhows discharged dates in heavy big packages, or loaded salt in bulk, and cotton-stuffs in bolts, and all manner of trade-goods from the free port of Aden, for distribution into the nearer East African, Gulf of Aden and Red Sea ports.
All this trade and highly colourful coming and going went on regardless of the great ships of Europe lying off Steamer Point, hurriedly taking in bunkers for the continuance of their voyages to India, Australia and the Far East. The two worlds, though adjacent, were utterly separate. Laden dhows slipped silently seawards past big liners, their graceful lateen sails spread to the monsoon wind, their commerce, their outlook, their seamanship, their whole concept of living, out of date by at least a thousand years. The world had passed them by. Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Education, Historical articles, History, London, Music on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Muzio Clementi originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 264 published on 4 February 1967.
Most infant prodigies fade into obscurity while they are still very young. Not so Muzio Clementi, the pianist and composer, who lived for a time at No. 128, Kensington Church Street.
Clementi was born in Italy, the son of a musically-inclined silversmith. His father noticed the child’s unusual sensitivity to music and he persuaded a choirmaster in Rome to develop the boy’s talent.
Muzio Clementi was an apt pupil.
By the time he was 12, he had composed an oratorio – a complicated piece of music scored for voices, solo and chorus, backed by an orchestra. His confidence grew with his ability and he eagerly tackled much more difficult musical themes, so that at 14 he had already achieved several full-scale works, the themes properly counterpointed with subsidiary melodies. One of these – a mass – was performed in Rome and was accounted one of the musical sensations of the day.
Clementi’s fame – and his music – reached the ears of Peter Beckford, an English MP who was visiting Rome at the time. Impressed by the young Italian boy’s talent, Beckford persuaded the father to send him to England for further training under his care.
So Clementi came to live at a Wiltshire country house, where he studied hard at languages and science as well as music. He spent many hours exploring the possibilities of the new instrument that was replacing the harpsichord – the piano. In 1773, he was sent to London for his first public concert and from then on his success was immediate and lasting.
By 1777, he was conductor at the Italian Opera in London, and in 1780 he set off on a European tour, playing in Paris, Strasbourg, Munich and Vienna. He met Haydn, and played a musical ‘competition’ against Mozart before Emperor Joseph II of Austria; the contest was declared drawn. Clementi admired Mozart’s touch, and his own style subsequently changed, although he denied that Mozart’s influence had any bearing on this.
From 1782, Clementi was one of London’s most fashionable music teachers, and he later went into business as a piano-maker and music publisher. As he grew older, he devoted more time to composition, producing over a hundred sonatas and several symphonies, since lost. He died in 1832 and was given a public burial at Westminster Abbey.
Modern piano-playing techniques are still based on those developed by Muzio Clementi.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, London, Medicine, Plants, Politics on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about coffee originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 264 published on 4 February 1967.
For more than a century after the first coffee house was opened in London in 1652, the drinking of coffee was a fashionable thing to do. More coffee houses were opened to keep pace with the demand, and before long, men were to be found discussing business and politics over a cup of coffee.
A coffee house in St. James’s Street was the accepted meeting place for members of the Whig political party; others, like the Grecian in the Strand, catered for men of literary tastes.
Anyone with a nose for news could be found in the coffee houses, whence came the latest information especially from abroad.
Britain’s famous group of underwriters grew up round a coffee house which was opened by Edward Lloyd in 1688. Those connected with shipping used to gather there and do business while enjoying a cup of the proprietor’s best blend. By 1692, Edward Lloyd had to find more spacious premises, and before four years had passed, Lloyd’s News, giving information on shipping affairs, was being published for the use of patrons. Before long, a number of customers formed a company to deal with maritime insurance. Read the rest of this article »
Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Shakespeare, Theatre on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Shakespeare originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 264 published on 4 February 1967.
Who said “. . . in his writing (whatsoever he penned) he never blotted out a line. My answer hath been ‘Would he had blotted a thousand’”?
The answer is Ben Jonson about William Shakespeare.
Most of what little we know about what sort of man Shakespeare was comes from the writings of his friends. Two of his fellow-actors, Heminge and Condell, who brought out the first collected edition of his plays, wrote: “His mind and hand went together and, what he thought, he uttered with that easiness, that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers.” It was to remarks like this that Jonson, a great friend of Shakespeare, replied: “Would he had blotted a thousand.” In other words, Jonson thought Shakespeare ought to have taken more care over his writing.
Jonson, in his writings and poems, tells us much about Shakespeare – that he knew “small Latin and less Greek”; that he was a “gentle”, meaning an affable, good-tempered man; that he was “the wonder of our stage”, greater than any of his fellow playwrights.
But Jonson was more of a scholar than Shakespeare and must sometimes have been a little jealous of Shakespeare’s success. Jonson’s own tragedies, though more scholarly than his friend’s have been more or less forgotten, whereas Shakespeare, the supreme genius, wrote in a freer manner, without introducing learning for its own sake and with no stilted dialogue.
Jonson clearly believed that if Shakespeare had taken more trouble and worked more slowly, he would have been even a greater playwright. We can beg leave to doubt it. Shakespeare was a busy man, working fast to keep his theatre supplied with plays, but this suited his genius. His occasional mistakes and miscalculations merely shows he was human!
Posted in Anthropology, Boats, Bravery, Historical articles, History, Travel on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Kon-Tiki originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Until 1947, no one could say with any certainty where the brown-skinned people who lived on the tiny islands in the South Pacific had come from.
A Norwegian named Thor Heyerdahl believed that they must have drifted there from Peru in South America, and to prove his theory he decided to build a raft like those used by the Pacific islanders and, making use of the prevailing winds and currents, sail it from Peru. With the assistance of the British, American and Peruvian governments, Heyerdahl was able to put his plan into action.
The raft which he had constructed consisted of nine logs of balsa wood, each 18 feet long by 1 foot in diameter. Above the logs, lashed with hemp, was a deck of split bamboo. A cabin of split bamboo and banana leaves was built upon this. To the mangrove-wood masts was fixed a large square sail with the face of the Inca god, Kon-Tiki, after whom the raft was named, painted on it.
On 28th April, 1947, the frail craft, which was to brave rough seas and danger from dolphins, whales and sharks, was towed out to sea from the naval dockyard at Callao.
After months at sea, Thor Heyerdahl and his five companions finally sighted land more than 4,000 miles from Peru, but their decision to continue sailing westwards almost led to disaster. As they approached the next island, their raft ran hard on to a reef, but was swept safely into a lagoon. At last, on 21st July, 1947, they had reached a Pacific island after months of danger at sea, with Thor’s theory finally proved.
Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty, Scotland on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Mary, Queen of Scots originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Mary, Queen of Scots faces her executioner by Pat Nicolle
After seven turbulent years Mary, Queen of Scots and her supporters were defeated at the battle of Langside in 1568, and she abdicated the throne in favour of her infant son, and fled across the border into England.
Mary sought the protection of her cousin, Elizabeth I, queen of England. But Mary was a dangerous guest. She was a Catholic, and Protestant England was fearful of attempts to restore the old religion.
Spain in particular would be delighted to use such a person as Mary, who could show claims to the English throne almost as strong as Elizabeth’s.
So, gradually, Mary’s protection turned into imprisonment and, inevitably, she lent her ear to plots against Elizabeth. Knowledge of these plots came to the attention of the English queen, but she ignored them until at last there came a serious plot to assassinate her. The danger that Mary presented could no longer be ignored: she was brought to trial and condemned.
The English ministers now had the difficult task of persuading Elizabeth to sign the death warrant. “Let just condemnation be followed by just execution” Parliament urged her.
Elizabeth did all that she could to avoid the guilt of spilling the blood not only of another woman and a cousin but also a sister queen. She desired the end of the problem but not the blood-guilt that went with it. She even urged Sir Amyas Paulet, Mary’s gaoler, to do away with her discreetly. But Paulet indignantly refused ‘to shed blood without law or warrant’. Elizabeth alone could give the order for the execution of a queen.
At length Elizabeth did indeed sign the warrant and it was published, amid popular rejoicing. She hoped, perhaps, that its execution would still be delayed; that some loyal subject would take from her the guilt of killing Mary. Afterwards she claimed that she did not know that the warrant was being rushed by fast messenger to Fotheringay, the great castle in Nottinghamshire where Mary lay captive.
On 8th February, 1587, the warrant was executed, Mary meeting her death with courage and dignity. Immediately the son of the Earl of Shrewsbury took horse and left to inform Elizabeth. All that day he rode, and through the night, and in the morning he came at last to Greenwich.
Four hundred years ago Greenwich was a village outside London. Elizabeth had been born there and loved the place. On this morning she was out riding in the great park and so missed the messenger on his arrival. He, it seems, lost no time in spreading the news for when she returned it was to hear the bells of London ringing in rejoicing.
Elizabeth listened to the messenger calmly enough but as soon as he had finished she retired to a private room and there burst into a flood of tears.
Posted in Bible, Missionaries, Religion, Saints on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
After their encouraging visit to Cyprus, Barnabas, Paul, and their young assistant John crossed over to the mainland of what is now called Turkey, but which was then known as Asia Minor.
This was the land of Paul’s own birth, and he was specially eager to preach there for that very reason. But the idea did not appeal to John, who left the two Apostles to go on alone, while he returned to Antioch.
Even today there is some wild and bleak country in the mountainous area which Paul and Barnabas traversed. Years later Paul wrote in one of his letters that he had been in all sorts of dangers and difficulties on these journeys. He mentions ‘perils of rivers and perils of robbers’, and also ‘perils by my own countrymen’, which suggests that he was not always kindly received in his own land (2 Corinthians 11, verse 26).
Paul and Barnabas arrived one day at the town of Iconium (the modern Konya, in central Turkey). They had some success with their preaching at the start, but they also made enemies who stirred up trouble on such a scale that the two Apostles had to leave the city in a hurry.
After arriving at the next city, Lystra, Paul astonished everyone by healing a lame man. The local people were so impressed that they said to one another “these are not ordinary men; they are the gods Jupiter and Mercury in disguise!”
When this was reported to the priest of a nearby temple, he brought garlands of flowers with which to honour the two visitors, and oxen which he prepared to sacrifice in front of them.
This really alarmed Paul, who realised that these simple folk had made a great mistake about who he was and what his message meant. So he and Barnabas simply fled from the ceremony and ran among the people saying, “Look here! We are not gods! We are ordinary people like yourselves!”
With a struggle they managed to prevent the sacrifice from taking place. Unfortunately, the people who had taken such a strong dislike to them at Iconium now arrived in Lystra, and stirred up the people there against the Apostles.
Partly because they had been made to look so foolish, those who had so recently regarded the Apostles as gods, now turned on them in anger and resentment. They singled out Paul and pelted him with stones, then dragged him unconscious out of the city and left him for dead.
A few sympathisers took care of him, however, and when he regained consciousness, they took him secretly back into the city, where he recovered under their care. He realised that his life was in danger, and that he could not continue preaching while the citizens were in such an ugly mood, so next day he and Barnabas went on to the neighbouring city of Derbe.
But within a short time they were back, both at Lystra and Iconium, where they founded churches from among the little groups of followers whom they had won over, by their sincerity and courage.
Posted in Dance, Historical articles, History, Music, Theatre on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Anna Pavlova originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Anna Pavlova dancing in Swan Lake
Almost as one, the audience of the London Palace Theatre rose to its feet, clapping and cheering. On the stage in the spotlight stood a small, slight figure in ballet costume.
Again and again the curtain swept across the stage, only to be pulled back yet once more when the audience continued their wild applause. Each time, the ballet dancer bowed gracefully, her eyes sparkling with joy at the success of her debut.
Next morning, the reviews in the newspapers were full of praise for the dancer, Anna Pavlova.
Born in Russia on 31st January, 1885, as a young girl Anna studied dancing at a ballet school. Soon she gained success on the stages of the great Russian Theatres, and from there she travelled to the various capitals of Europe. She was considered a great exponent of the ‘Russian school’ of dancing. Later she was hailed as the greatest classical ballerina of all time.
In 1909 she came to London, where she established her reputation at the Palace Theatre. She liked England and made it her home in between the extensive tours she made to other parts of the world. She died on 22nd January, 1931. Her most famous role was that of a swan in the ballet Swan Lake.
Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature on Thursday, 23 May 2013
This edited article about Lord Byron originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Through the depressing curtain of rain came the distant mutter of Turkish guns. The commander of the Greek troops stood before his ragged ranks of men. His body trembled with cold and fever, yet his voice was firm and loud as he addressed them in their own language. He reminded them of the ancient glory of Greece, and how it had died under centuries of tyranny by the Turks. Now the time had come to drive the tyrants out. Once more Greece would be a free nation.
The commander was Lord Byron, the famous poet. As he spoke, he moved up and down the lines of soldiers, his feet squelching in the mud of Missolonghi.
“You are lucky to be the ones chosen to liberate your country,” he told the men. “Even if you die, you die for the most noble cause in the world – liberty!”
At his words a cheer suddenly rose from the ranks. Under their officers the Greeks prepared to resume their campaign. Meanwhile their commander staggered back to his rain-soaked tent. Earlier in the day the men had gone on strike for higher pay, but his words had fired them once again with enthusiasm for Greek independence and the strike was over.
But the effort had exhausted the fever-stricken orator. As a result of the cold and the soaking he had received his fever got worse, and on 19th April, 1824, Lord Byron died.
George Gordon Byron was born on 22nd January, 1788. He studied at Harrow and Cambridge and his first volume of poetry was published when he was 20 years old.
More poetry followed and the young nobleman became internationally famous. He was also regarded as the most handsome man in Europe.
He lived lavishly, surrounded by numerous pets, which included a monkey and a beloved dog called Bo’sun. Although he achieved great success, he remained a very sensitive man, partly due to his having a deformed foot which caused him to limp. (At Harrow, when he played cricket, another boy made the actual runs for him.) To compensate for his handicap Byron became an excellent swimmer and horseman. Another point over which he was very sensitive was his weight. He carried a piece of string in his pocket. This he would put round his waist and, if the ends would not meet, he would go without food until they did.
Byron left England to live in Europe. He spent a long time in Venice where he had a palace. A lot of his poetry was composed at night as he cruised along the waterways of the city in his private gondola.
Towards the end of his romantic life he became passionately interested in the Greeks’ struggle against the oppression of the Turks. With his own money he financed a small rebel force and took command of it in January, 1824, at Missolonghi.
But his men did not have the same vision of a new, free Greece as the poet, and after three months they refused to continue the campaign. It was then that Byron rose from his sickbed to inspire them once more – and in doing so died for his ideal of liberty.
Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Boats, Historical articles, History, Rivers, Sea, Ships, Trade, Transport, Travel on Wednesday, 22 May 2013
This edited article about seafaring originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 263 published on 28 January 1967.
Queen Hatshepsut's expedition to Punt with inset diagram showing details of the boat construction
How did seafaring begin? Who first made a raft, a dug-out, a bark canoe? We haven’t much idea, any more than we can find out now who first thought up the idea of making a wheel.
But it is pretty sure that the same materials available to men over much of the earth led to the development of the same sort of floating ‘vehicles’ – so much so, indeed, that many exceedingly primitive craft are still with us. After all, logs, burned-out hollow trees, curled bits of bark, rafts and even lashed-up reeds will float anywhere. So will blown-up animal skins and big baskets, woven and caulked with bitumen or tar, or just trampled-down grass held together with any gooey stuff that happens to be to hand, like resin out of trees.
Rock drawings; scratchings on stone; stylised decorations on ancient vases scarcely identifiable as any sort of vessel, actual models of very old Egyptian river-craft; all these still exist and we can make what we want of them. So do the vessels themselves on which the drawings and models were based, in surprising profusion: reed boats on Lake Titicaca in South America, for example, which are nothing but bundles of bulrushes in which a fisherman may sit and control a small sail of light woven reeds set from a bipod mast of sticks; basket-boats woven from bamboos and caulked with a mixture of cow-dung and coconut oil in Vietnam; the one-man rafts of small balsa logs lashed together which are used for fishing inshore along the coasts of Peru and Brazil; and dug-outs with or without outriggers; twin-hulled or single, large and small, still abound in parts of the South Sea Islands, and around the coasts of India, Ceylon, Burma, East and West Africa.
With one exception, none of these craft would ever grow into any sort of seagoing ship. Even the primitive Australian aborigines made a raft of mangrove poles, but they got no farther. Rafts, reeds and baskets did all that was needed. Read the rest of this article »