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Subject: ‘English Literature’
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Posted in Disasters, English Literature, Historical articles, History on Friday, 17 May 2013
This edited article about Charles Dickens originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 258 published on 24 December 1966.
Charles Dickens helping to rescue wounded passengers by Neville Dear
There was no indication of impending disaster. The first hint that something was amiss came as the smooth rhythm of the speeding express changed suddenly into a bumping, grinding series of convulsive jerks.
Then came the screams of alarm, and a nightmare chorus in which human cries mingled with the din of crashing metal and masonry, the splintering of glass and woodwork.
The year was 1865 . . .
In a first-class coach at the front of the boat train, London-bound from Folkestone, and pride of the South Eastern Railway, a bearded passenger, returning from a holiday in Paris, was doing his best to calm the fears of the two women with whom he was travelling.
Anyone in those days would probably have recognised him on sight. He was Charles Dickens, the famous Victorian novelist. The writer who had devised so many sudden calamities for his characters when weaving the plots of his novels, had himself been plunged into a real-life disaster of the most daunting kind: a railway smash.
The mounting volume of cries and screams told him that it must be a very serious accident indeed, though he and his companions had been lucky enough to have escaped with little worse than a severe jolting. But he recalled that the guard had locked them in on departure from Folkestone – a common enough practice in those times. They were thus caught in the midst of a wreck that might become a death-trap, should fire break out.
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Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, Uncategorized on Thursday, 16 May 2013
This edited article about W M Thackeray originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 257 published on 17 December 1966.
Becky Sharp famously throws Dr Johnson's Dictionary out of the carriage at the beginning of 'Vanity Fair'
The small, pale-faced boy felt lost and bewildered as he stood amidst the rush and bustle of the quayside at Calcutta, in India. He was about to embark on the most thrilling journey of his short life, the voyage to his ‘home’ in England – a country he had heard so much about, but never seen.
Five-year-old William Makepeace Thackeray was not excited at the adventure before him. He was sad to be leaving his widowed mother and his relatives and friends. He missed his pet monkey, who was not allowed aboard the three-decker ship, Prince Regent.
William’s father had been an important official of the East India Company, but the harsh climate of India had never really suited him, and he had died early in 1816. Mrs. Thackeray had decided to send William to live in London with his Aunt Charlotte Ritchie, so that he didn’t suffer unnecessarily in the cruel Indian sun. His mother was going to marry an army captain, and she promised William that she would come to England after her marriage.
So, in December, 1816, William set sail. He was accompanied by his cousin, Richmond Shakespear, aged four, and a trusted Indian servant. As his mother waved the ship out of sight, she little knew that William was to become the foremost writer of his day.
On the voyage home boatloads of passengers from the Prince Regent visited the Atlantic island of St. Helena, where Napoleon Bonaparte had been imprisoned in 1815. The infamous ‘Boney’ was said to eat children alive. William persuaded Lawrence Barlow to take him to Napoleon’s garden, where they saw a short, worried-looking man pacing feverishly to and fro, hands clasped behind his back.
William won the admiration of everyone on the Prince Regent by sketching the Little Emperor in his garden jail. His drawings, however, were not conventional portraits. They were caricatures showing a midget Napoleon almost hidden by giant-sized guards. It was this talent for clever exaggeration that was to gain William more praise – and also land him in trouble!
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Posted in English Literature, Historical articles on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
This edited article about Robert Browning originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 254 published on 26 November 1966.
‘How They Brought The Good News From Ghent To Aix’ is one of Robert Browning’s most popular poems, because of its tremendous rhythm, with the horses’ hooves pounding through the lines, and also, perhaps, because the author only half tells us the story and leaves the rest to our imagination.
It is set in the 17th century, when Dutch states were rebelling against their Spanish oppressors. There is no historical foundation for the poem, which begins with the famous lines:
I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three.
Only the storyteller on his ‘stout galloper Roland’ actually reaches Aix – the other horses collapse and die on the journey. The news they carry is obviously important, but we never know what it is! Have the enemy been defeated and is the besieged city of Aix safe? Have new allies been found? Browning does not tell us.
The poem ends with the storyteller sitting with Roland’s head between his knees, as friends flock around. The noble horse is given ‘our last measure of wine’,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.
Posted in Animals, English Literature, Famous crimes, Legend on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about Dick Turpin originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 253 published on 19 November 1966.
Dick Turpin's ride to York on Black Bess by Ronald Simmons
Dick Turpin’s famous ride from London to York is, alas, a case of The Ride That Never Was – and the same applies to his equally celebrated horse, Black Bess!
Richard Turpin, the son of an Essex innkeeper, was born in 1706. He was apprenticed to a butcher, but took to cattle-stealing instead, and joined a brutal gang of smugglers and thieves who terrorised the Essex countryside. He then teamed up with a notorious highwayman, Tom King, but accidentally shot him when trying to save King from being arrested. The dying highwayman gave information about Turpin, who escaped from London to Yorkshire (but not by a headlong ride), and it was there that he was finally captured. He died bravely on the gallows at York in 1739.
The legend of the ride was built up by Harrison Ainsworth in his romance, Rookwood (1834), but the real rider seems to have been a highwayman known as ‘Swift John Nevison’, who in 1676 robbed a sailor at Gadshill in Kent at 4 a.m. one morning and reached York at 7.45 p.m. the same day, to establish an alibi that he could not have been at Gadshill. He covered roughly 190 miles in just under 16 hours.
Posted in English Literature, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, Scotland on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about Sir Walter Scott originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 252 published on 12 November 1966.
Lochinvar is the hero of a ballad of that name which Sir Walter Scott included in his poetic saga ‘Marmion’. It was published in 1808. The ballad, which is written in the romantic style of the early 19th century, opens with the famous lines: -
Oh, young Lochinvar is come out of the West,
Through all the wide border his steed was the best.
and its rhythm is so exciting that one can almost hear the galloping of horses’ hooves, especially if it is read aloud.
The ballad, which is set in the Scottish Border country, tells how young Lochinvar’s beloved, ‘the fair Ellen’, is about to be married to an unworthy suitor of her father’s choice. Lochinvar arrives at the bridal feast and claims a dance with Ellen. They dance over to the door of the hall, he swings Ellen on to his horse and rides swiftly away with her. The wedding guests pursue them – in vain!
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was one of the finest of British novelists and poets, his works being frequently set in his native Scotland. They include ‘Rob Roy’, ‘Ivanhoe’, ‘The Heart of Midlothian’ and ‘The Lady of the Lake’. He was created a baronet in 1820.
Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Medicine, Scotland, War on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about Arthur Conan Doyle originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 251 published on 5 November 1966.
Arthur Conan Doyle served as a surgeon during the Boer War by Roger Payne
Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh in May 1859 and died, after a long eventful life, in July 1930. During his lifetime he produced an amazing number of books, covering a wide variety of subjects and characters and establishing him as a popular International author.
Arthur Conan Doyle came from a well-known family of artists. He was educated at Stonyhurst and later at Edinburgh University where he studied medicine, graduating M.B. in 1881.
It was while he was in medical practice in Southsea that Conan Doyle published his first book, ‘A Study in Scarlet’, in which he introduced to the public the debonair Sherlock Holmes who, with his worthy friend and companion Dr. Watson, was to become the leading figure in detective fiction.
Sherlock Holmes depended on careful, systematic examination of minute details and a logical process of deduction from the points observed to solve the crimes that baffled everyone else. It is said that his creator modelled his methods on an eminent surgeon, Dr. Joseph Bell, who had continually impressed upon his students the necessity, during diagnosis, of closely observing all the given facts and then making an intelligent interpretation of them.
Conan Doyle’s own life was as active and virile as the stories he wrote. He was a good cricketer and general sportsman, especially keen on boxing – bringing the sport into one of his best novels, ‘Rodney Stone’. He was a real-life detective whose advice was frequently sought by the police, and a champion of those whom he believed to have been wrongfully convicted – against strong police opinion, he proved one man innocent and saved him from a life sentence.
Besides detective stories, Conan Doyle wrote sporting novels, poems, pirate and adventure yarns, histories of the Boer War, plays, imaginative works, such as ‘The Lost World’, and historical romances. He was a great stickler for detail. Before writing ‘Sir Nigel’ he read over sixty books dealing with heraldry, armour, falconry, the medieval habits of the peasants of that time and the social customs of the aristocracy too. Only when he was sure that he knew those times as if he had lived in them did he start to write; and in describing the adventurous life of Sir Nigel, the perfect knight, he gave a brilliant, exciting description of that chivalrous period of English history.
Conan Doyle was a patriot. During the South African War of 1899-1902 he acted as senior physician to a field hospital, and he played an important part in the First World War. He was interested in all aspects of life and death. Spiritualism fascinated him, and during his last years he became a lecturer on psychic matters. Everything he did was tackled with enthusiasm and vigour, and this fact shines out from his books as a fitting memorial.
Posted in Bravery, English Literature, Famous battles, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about the Crimean War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 250 published on 29 October 1966.
The Valley of Death – The Charge of the Light Brigade
The Crimean War flared up from a petty quarrel. Britain, France and Sardinia allied themselves with Turkey to stop Russian plans for expansion, especially in the direction of Constantinople.
The Allies gathered their forces at Sebastopol, Russia’s great naval port, and laid siege to it. Speedy attack might have produced satisfactory results, but the Crimean War has become famous in history for the inefficient way the campaign was conducted. It was expensive in lives, money and time.
While the siege of Sebastopol was in progress, the harbour at Balaclava was being used as a base and, defending the hills connecting the two, were lines of earthworks. On 25th October, 1854, a Russian force attempted to relieve Sebastopol by destroying these defence lines. They managed to capture some guns from the Turkish forces defending the hills, and then they came down towards the plain lying between the hills and the sea. This plain has a ridge running down the middle, forming two valleys known as the North Valley and the South Valley.
The Russians were driven out of the South Valley by the Heavy Brigade, but as they retreated they began to take away the guns the Turks had been using in the hills.
Lord Raglan, the Commander-in-Chief, sent a quickly pencilled note to Lord Lucan, commander of the cavalry: “Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front – follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns”. Captain Nolan, who delivered the message had scant respect for Lucan, and when the cavalry leader, who from his position could not see what was going on in the hills, questioned the whereabouts of the guns he was to attack, Nolan scornfully waved his arm vaguely in the direction of the North Valley, where a host of Russian cavalry was also massed. Lucan supposed these were the guns he was to attack.
Lucan passed on the order for the suicidal charge to Lord Cardigan, Colonel of the Light Brigade. Cardigan pointed in astonishment at the batteries and riflemen on every side of the valley below. In spite of this, Lord Lucan answered, there was no choice but to obey.
The Light Brigade silently advanced at a slow trot: -
“Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.”
As they gathered speed, the Russian guns blasted at them: -
“Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them”
The guns played havoc with the charging men. Only a few survived to cut down the Russian gunners . . . and of these few only a wounded and stricken remnant returned.
Six hundred and seventy-three men had galloped down the valley on a mistaken mission! Fewer than 200 came back.
Posted in Architecture, English Literature, Famous landmarks, London on Thursday, 9 May 2013
The (New) Athenaeum, one of the grandest London clubs, was founded in 1824 and its first home designed by Decimus Burton, himself a founder member, who had already completed some impressive commissions in Hyde Park at the youthful age of twenty-four.
The New Athenaeum, Waterloo Place
The style he chose was Neoclassical, which lent an appropriate air of Graeco-Roman erudition to an establishment which was primarily for the artistic and literary celebrities of the day. The porch of Doric columns leads into an entrance hall which embraces without partition a grand staircase, splitting into two flights which thereafter approach the first-floor landing. It was at the foot of this staircase that a famous reconciliation took place, when the ailing Thackeray was offered a helping arm by Charles Dickens, neither man having spoken to the other for some ten years due to a literary quarrel. Not long afterwards, Thackeray died at least happier to have made it up with his old and valued friend.
Many more pictures of The Athenaeum can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.
Posted in Castles, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Shakespeare, Theatre on Thursday, 9 May 2013
This edited article about Shakespeare originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 248 published on 15 October 1966.
An early performance of ‘Hamlet’
The Danish seaport of Elsinore looks across just three miles of water to the Swedish town of Helsinborg. The solid red brick and sandstone fortress of Kronborg at Elsinore is often called ‘Hamlet’s castle’ because Shakespeare made it the setting for his great tragedy. But the fact is that the real Hamlet probably never knew Elsinore at all, and certainly not the castle, which was not built until 1580, five hundred years and more after his death.
The narrow waterway separating Denmark from Sweden made Elsinore a key port for trading countries for four centuries. Between 1429 and 1857, every ship sailing through the Sound had to stop at Elsinore to pay dues. The traffic was so great that this source of revenue accounted for two-thirds of Denmark’s annual income and made Elsinore famous whereever sailors put into port and found time to spin a tale of the places they had been.
England had close associations with Denmark during the years when Shakespeare was writing his plays, and he may have been attracted to an old folk story about a 10th century prince of Jutland named Amleth. Shakespeare’s tragedy is one among several influenced by the ancient saga.
Amleth (or Hamlet as we now call him) was an impressive figure in the Icelandic Sagas of the Danish kings. In the days when Rorik was King of Denmark, Horvendill, a prince of the northern province of Jutland, married his daughter, Gerutha, and they had a son – Amleth. But Horvendill had a jealous brother, Feng, who murdered him and married Gerutha. Amleth realised the danger he was in, and tried to avert a fate similar to his father’s by pretending to be demented. Feng’s suspicion was roused and when Amleth killed a spy, he was sent to England with two attendants who carried a letter asking the King of England to put him to death. Amleth cunningly altered the message to a request that he be given the King’s daughter in marriage – and that the attendants be executed!
After his marriage with the princess, Amleth went back to Denmark in time to attend the festivities being held to celebrate his death. During the feast, he took advantage of the drunkeness of the courtiers to set fire to the palace. Feng was slain, and Amleth made for England only to find that previously his father-in-law had made a pact with Feng, that each should avenge the other’s death. Amleth outwitted him and, after defeating him in battle, returned to Jutland to be slain in battle himself by King Rorik’s successor.
Around this ancient tale, Shakespeare wove a tragedy hailed by many as the greatest of all his plays. It was first performed at The Globe Theatre in 1602.
Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, London, Royalty on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about Fanny Burney originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 245 published on 24 September 1966.
Fanny Burney (Madame D'Arblay)
Fanny Burney was a plain, short – sighted little girl who leaned forward to peer at people and who, at the age of eight, did not know her alphabet.
Even her family called her the ‘little dunce’. Only her mother believed that, of all her six children, Fanny might eventually turn out to be the cleverest. “I have no fear about her,” she said.
The children’s father, Dr. Charles Burney, was a well-known musician who played the harpsichord and the organ. He also wrote books on music and gave lessons to promising pupils.
Fanny was born in 1752, at which time the Burney family was living at King’s Lynn, in Norfolk. Later they moved to London, and after losing his wife, Dr. Burney married a clever and beautiful widow. The new Mrs. Burney held herself aloof from Fanny and her brothers and sisters, who soon nicknamed her ‘The Lady’.
From the very beginning ‘The Lady’ disapproved of Fanny’s habit of writing in secret.
“The girl is simply wasting her time and mine,” she grumbled. “She thinks of nobody but herself, and of nothing except her ridiculous scribblings.”
In fact, Fanny was writing a novel called The History of Caroline Evelyn. This was a beautiful and romantic tale about a young girl who secretly married a nobleman. But, despite its merit, Fanny decided that the book must be destroyed. She was tired of being bullied and spied upon by ‘The Lady’, and on her fifteenth birthday she took the manuscript and her journal out into the paved court at the back of the house and burnt them.
“Caroline Evelyn,” she said, “is dead.”
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