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Subject: ‘Language’

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Sack-cloth and ashes

Posted in Bible, Interesting Words, Language, Religion, Sinners on Friday, 1 July 2016

This edited article about the language of the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 392 published on 19 July 1969.

Mordecai, picture, image, illustration

Mordecai wearing sack-cloth with ashes cries out bitterly among his threatened people, the Jews

We aren’t happy when we have made a mistake, and if we dislike admitting it to ourselves, we dislike admitting it to others even more.

Sometimes, however, we may be able to make things easier by a phrase which may bring a faint smile to the face of the person we have to confess to. “I really am sorry,” we may say. “It was a stupid thing to do. Here I am in sack-cloth and ashes.”

This is an odd thing to say, and it would be an even odder sight if it were literally true! What we mean, of course, is that we are pretending to have dressed ourselves in the clothing which represented a penitent person in Biblical times.

There are several references to this custom in the Bible. Sometimes sackcloth was used to mark a great misfortune, as when a decree was issued by a certain Persian King ordering a great persecution of the Jews. One of their leaders, Mordecai, “rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and bitter cry.” (Esther, Chapter 4 verse 1).

But the custom was usually a way of expressing deep sorrow for something that had displeased God. When Jonah preached to the people in the wicked city of Nineveh, we are told that the people there “put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them,” and that even the King removed his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes (Jonah, Chapter 3, verses 5 and 6).

A famous instance of a King wearing sackcloth as a mark of his own repentance is that of the wicked King Ahab. With the help of his evil wife, Jezebel, Ahab had arranged for an innocent man named Naboth to be stoned to death on a false charge. This had been contrived so that the King could seize a little vineyard which Naboth had owned, next door to the palace grounds. Ahab badly wanted this vineyard for himself, to turn into a herb garden.

The prophet Elijah learned of the cruel plot by which Naboth had been got out of the way, and, confronting the King boldly, warned him that a terrible fate would overtake not only Ahab and Jezebel but their whole household, in punishment for their crime. Frightened by the prophet’s words, Ahab “rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth,” and went about dejectedly (1 Kings 21, verse 27).

In their writings, the prophets often advised their hearers to “gird themselves with sackcloth” as a mark of sorrow for their sins. And Jesus himself used the words. Rebuking the people of certain villages, he said, “If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”

In view of the widespread use of this phrase, it is not surprising that it has passed into our everyday speech as an expression of regret and a desire to make amends.

Origins of ‘pin money’

Posted in Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language on Sunday, 31 January 2016

This edited article about pins originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 253 published on 19 November 1966.

pin money, picture, image, illustration

Pin Money – the first of two cartoons highlighting the different worlds of the rich and the poor

Pins of one sort or another have been holding clothes together for thousands of years. We know this for certain because, amongst the finds which archaeologists have dug up, pins appear again and again.

Many of the oldest ones are fatter and more lethal than anything we know now – almost like miniature daggers! In a Bronze Age grave, two pins for securing a robe were found, and they were twelve inches or more in length.

The Romans made many pins in both metal and bone. Most of them were quite plain, for everyday use, but some had ornately carved heads. On some a glass ball was clasped on to the top, or a carved hand stretched out its fingers; even human heads were carved on some, sporting elaborate hairstyles which must themselves have been secured by pins!

Beautiful medieval pins have been found, too, several with carved heads bearing crowns. Others can be seen in illustrated manuscripts.

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The best pictures from educational trade cards, 36

Posted in Architecture, Arts and Crafts, Best pictures, Communications, Discoveries, Educational card, Famous battles, Famous Inventors, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Inventions, Language, Legend, Literature, Medicine, Myth, Religion, Royalty, Science on Tuesday, 24 November 2015

We have selected three of the best pictures from our large collection of 19th and early 20th century educational trade cards.
The first picture shows Mehmed the Conqueror, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

Mehmed, picture, image, illustration

Mehmed the Conqueror, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, makes his triumphal entrance into the Hagia Sophia after capturing Constantinople, 1453

The second picture shows Edward Jenner, who discovered a vaccine against smallpox.

Jenner, picture, image, illustration

Edward Jenner, English doctor and scientist who discovered a vaccine against smallpox

The third picture shows Scandinavian runes.

runes, picture, image, illustration

Scandinavian runes

High-resolution scans of all educational cards can be found in the Look and Learn picture library.

King John signing Magna Carta

Posted in Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language, Law, Literature, Politics, Religion, Royalty on Sunday, 22 November 2015

Few moments in British history are as iconic and significant as the one depicted in this grand and beautifully composed history painting, which shows the beleaguered monarch bowing to the barons’ wishes and signing the most famous document in our national story. The gilded gothic canopy above the throne draws all our attention towards King John and his momentous act.

King John, picture, image, illustration

King John signing Magna Carta by Fortunino Matania

Many more pictures of Magna Carta can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures of schools in Tudor England

Posted in Best pictures, Children, Education, Historical articles, History, Language, Literature on Monday, 26 October 2015

The best pictures of schools in Tudor England are images of schoolboys and schoolmasters, lessons and punishments.
The first picture shows a lesson and boys being reprimanded.

school, picture, image, illustration

`a schoolmaster reaches for the birch by Peter Jackson

The second picture shows a Hornbook.

school, picture, image, illustration

A Hornbook for alphabet and numbers by Peter Jackson

The third picture shows public corporal punishment.

school, picture, image, illustration

Punishment at school in the Tudor Age by Peter Jackson

Many more pictures of education can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures of concentration camps in South Africa

Posted in Africa, Best pictures, Historical articles, History, Language, War on Monday, 21 September 2015

The best pictures of British concentration camps in South Africa show conditions and treatment in these internment centres which gave so terrible a term and concept to the world.
The first picture shows Boer women and children inside a camp tent.

Boer war, picture, image, illustration

Boer women prisoners in a concentration camp in South Africa

The second picture shows men relaxing and a wedding inside a camp.

Boer war, picture, image, illustration

Life in a Concentration Camp at Vryburg by A S Boyd

The third picture shows soldiers, women and children in a camp.

Boer war, picture, image, illustration

A concentration camp in South Africa during the Boer War

Many more pictures of the Boer War can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures of illuminated Initials

Posted in Art, Best pictures, Historical articles, History, Illustrators, Interesting Words, Language, Literature, Religion on Sunday, 23 August 2015

The best pictures of illuminated initials are elaborate artistic creations taken from manuscripts dating from as early as the Twelfth century.
The first picture shows an initial based on an example from the Fourteenth century.

Illumination, picture, image, illustration

An illuminated initial letter from the Fourteenth Century

The second picture shows historiated initials from an Eighth-century manuscript.

Manuscript, picture, image, illustration

Initials from an 8th-century illuminated manuscript (initiales historiees)

The third picture shows two initials based on examples from the Fourteenth century.

Illumination, picture, image, illustration

Illuminated initial letters from the Fourteenth Century

Many more pictures of lettering can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures of Nelson’s signal before Trafalgar

Posted in Best pictures, Famous battles, Flags, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Interesting Words, Language, Sea, Ships, War on Monday, 17 August 2015

The best pictures of Nelson’s famous signal before Trafalgar show sailors arranging the signal flags for the most famous signal in Naval history.
The first picture shows the Admiral and his signallers.

Trafalgar, picture, image, illustration

Nelson's last signal before the Battle of Trafalgar: England expects that every man will do his duty.

The second picture shows Nelson discussing his signal with Lieutenant Pasco.

Trafalgar, picture, image, illustration

Admiral Nelson and Lieutenant Pasco discuss the signal before Trafalgar

The third picture shows the signal flags being run up.

Trafalgar, picture, image, illustration

Admiral Nelson watches Lieutenant Pasco run up the famous signal before Trafalgar by Peter Jackson

Many more pictures of the Battle of Trafalgar can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures of Captain Boycott

Posted in Best pictures, Famous news stories, Farming, Historical articles, History, Language, Politics on Friday, 31 July 2015

The best pictures of Captain Boycott show episodes in the story of this notorious Land Agent in County Mayo famously ostracised by his community.
The first picture shows the Orange Men shipped in to harvest Boycott’s crops after farm workers withdrew their labour; they work under armed guard.

Captain Boycott, picture, image, illustration

The Saving of Captain Boycott's Crops

The second picture shows Captain Boycott driving cattle from Lough Mask House through Ballinrobe to Claremorris station with armed escort.

Captain Boycott, picture, image, illustration

The Land Agitation in Ireland, driving Captain Boycott's Cattle from Lough Mask to Claremorris

The third picture shows a Spy cartoon of Captain Boycott.

Captain Boycott, picture, image, illustration

Mr Charles Boycott by Leslie Matthew (Spy) Ward

Many more pictures of Irish Land War can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

In 1843 America’s Congress almost voted against adopting Samuel Morse’s Code

Posted in America, Communications, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions, Language on Thursday, 16 January 2014

This edited article about Morse Code first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 515 published on 27 November 1971.

Samuel Morse, picture, image, illustration

Samuel Morse in later life

The passengers aboard the sailing ship Sully, on their way from Le Havre to New York, were puzzled by the behaviour of a poor but popular artist who had done likenesses of them in his sketch-book.

Suddenly, for no apparent reason, 41-year-old Samuel Morse was no longer to be seen in the dining-room, or working at his pictures on deck. Instead he had locked himself in his cabin, and the only person who had access to him was the steward who brought him his meals.

He refused to answer any other knocks on his door, and was quite rude when people shouted through the panels, asking what he was doing. “Go away!” he cried. “I am working on something completely different. An invention which one day might save your lives!”

Discuss it as they might, his former friends could not imagine what this invention could possibly be. The last conversation they remembered having with him had been about safety at sea; and how invaluable it would be if there was a speedy and simple way of letting those on land know that a ship was in distress.

His invention could be concerned with that. But Morse was an artist and art teacher – not a man of science. Besides which there was little in the year 1832 to suggest that messages could be sent hundreds of miles across water. Telegraphic devices in England and France had not been greeted with widespread encouragement, and were too unreliable and costly for everyday or even emergency use.

As the month-long voyage drew to its end, the mystery was no nearer a solution. It was not until the last week of October, as the vessel entered New York Harbour, that Morse finally emerged from his cabin. He went straight to see the ship’s master, Captain David Pell, and said to him:

“I must apologize for having appeared so unsociable and discourteous. The fact is I have been drawing an electric telegraph which is going to prove a boon to mankind – a real life-saver. Remember when it is put into use that it was invented in a cabin on your ship!”

So Morse hurried ashore clutching his sketch-book and determined to be the first man to send information and calls for help across the entire Atlantic Ocean if necessary.

Since the death of his wife a few months earlier, he had travelled throughout the galleries and churches of Europe in an effort to ease the pain in his heart. Now he was back again in his native land, and the first thing he had to do was find a job and somewhere to live.

Through the help of some old colleagues and friends, he was employed as an art teacher at New York University. At night, when the lectures were over, he strove to perfect his model electric telegraph which “wrote out” messages by means of an electro-magnet, a battery, some wire, and a pencil stub.

The slanting strokes the pencil made could only be sent and received over distances of a very few feet. The whole process was extremely primitive, and for the next five years Morse endeavoured to solve the problem of relaying messages from, say, New York to Boston.

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