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Posted in Historical articles, Literature, Philosophy, Politics on Friday, 14 June 2013
This edited article about Mary Wollstonecraft originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 296 published on 16 September 1967.
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin
Today we are so used to the fact that women can vote exactly like men that it is hard to realise that at the beginning of this century they did not have this right. Indeed, it was not until 1918 that women were given the vote.
This victory did not come overnight. The battle for equality between the sexes goes back a long way, and one of the greatest pioneers in the cause was Mary Wollstonecraft.
Because of her own personal experience, this highly intelligent woman bitterly resented the way women were regarded in her day. Born in London on April 27, 1759, Mary grew up with the problem of a father who drank too much.
When her mother died, her father remarried, with the result that Mary and her sisters had to fend for themselves. In those days there were very few careers open to women, and the Wollstonecraft girls could only manage to support themselves by doing needlework or taking posts as poorly paid “companions”.
Mary was determined not to do this sort of work all her life, so she decided to become a writer. Her first novel, called Mary was written in 1788. The publication of this, coupled with articles and translations, enabled her to support herself by her pen.
In 1792, there appeared her most famous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Women. This was a plea for equality of education with men.
In 1797, Mary married William Godwin, a progressive writer, but she died in September 10 of that year at the birth of her baby girl. This child, who was called Mary after her mother, grew up to marry the poet Shelley and write the famous novel Frankenstein.
Posted in America, Boats, English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, Rivers on Thursday, 13 June 2013
This edited article about Mark Twain originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 293 published on 26 August 1967.
Samuel Clemens – Mark Twain – at work on the Mississippi by Paul Rainer
Who said, “The report of my death was an exaggeration”?
The answer is Mark Twain in 1897 in a cable from London to the Associated Press.
Mark Twain, the great American writer and humorist, was born in 1835 in Florida, Missouri. His real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, and his pen-name was derived from a phrase meaning ‘two fathoms deep’, which was used on the Mississippi steamboats when he was a young man.
Much of ‘Mark Twain’s’ boyhood was spent in the little town of Hannibal, Missouri, which later appeared as St. Petersburg in his popular masterpieces, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The Mississippi river, which figures so much in both books, flowed past the town.
The boy had little schooling, and, when his father died, he was apprenticed to a printer. His elder brother became a newspaper publisher, and soon young Clemens was writing humorous pieces for the paper. Feeling restless, he started to work his way round the country as a printer and writer, and then in 1856 he became a Mississippi riverboat pilot and ‘got personally and familiarly acquainted with about all the different types of human nature.’
During the Civil War (1861-65), he roamed the mining towns of Nevada Territory in the West, speculating and writing. It was at this time that he took the name Mark Twain. He was sent to the South Seas by a Californian paper, and when he returned he became famous as a lecturer. In 1867, he visited Europe for the first time, and when he got back he wrote Innocents Abroad, which established him as a humorous writer.
From then on, Mark Twain became widely known on both sides of the Atlantic. His books included A Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur, in which a modern American visits King Arthur’s Camelot. He was honoured by many institutions, including Oxford University, but his old age was saddened by the death of his wife and two of his daughters, and by financial troubles. Gloom crept into his writing, but he did not lose his sense of humour. In 1897, his death was reported, and he sent off the telegram of the quotation. He died in 1910.
Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, Scotland on Thursday, 13 June 2013
This edited article about Sir Walter Scott originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 292 published on 19 August 1967.
Abbotsford, set back from the banks of the Tweed
It was long after midnight and in the yellow light of an oil lamp a man sat hunched at a desk. Steadily his hand moved to and fro over the paper before him, only pausing to dip his pen in an inkwell. Sir Walter Scott was writing to pay off a debt of £140,000.
The son of a lawyer, Walter Scott was born on 15th August, 1771, at Edinburgh. Being lame in one leg, he could not join in the sports and games of his schoolfellows. Instead he loved to spend his time reading old ballads and stories of chivalry. Later, when he was studying to be a lawyer himself, he took every opportunity to visit the Highlands of Scotland, where he collected the legends and songs of the Highlanders. At the age of 20, he was called to the Scottish Bar.
In 1820, he published a collection of the ballads he had collected under the title of Minstrels of the Scottish Border.
This book found enthusiastic readers everywhere, and when, in 1805, Scott published his first long original poem, The Lay of the Last Minstrel he became one of the most popular poets of the day.
Still fascinated by historical romance, his poems were about stirring deeds in days gone by. Waverley, his first historical novel, was published in 1814 and made a small fortune for the poet. Other Waverley novels followed, but for some reason Scott did not put his name to them. It was not until ten years after Waverley had appeared that he revealed himself as its author.
Fortune seemed to favour the Edinburgh poet and novelist. He built a fine mansion at Abbotsford on the Tweed, romantically choosing a site where the last battle in Border history was fought. King George IV made him a baronet.
Then, in 1826, disaster came. Scott had formed a business partnership with his printers. When they went bankrupt, his liabilities amounted to £140,000. It was an immense sum to find, but Scott was determined to pay his creditors and set to work to earn the money by his pen.
The same year his wife Charlotte died. Scott gave up his mansion and took lodgings at Edinburgh, working long hours at his books, which still sold successfully. Finally his health broke under the strain and he died at Abbotsford on 21st September, 1832. During the last years of his life his debt was greatly reduced and it was later discharged completely with the profits from his books.
Some of Sir Walter Scott’s best known books are Guy Mannering, Rob Roy, Heart of Midlothian, Kenilworth and Ivanhoe.
Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Legend, Literature on Wednesday, 12 June 2013
This edited article about the Odyssey originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 290 published on 5 August 1967.
Ulysses (his Greek name was Odysseus) was the son of the King of Ithaca. He married Penelope, the daughter of Icarius and took her to live at the royal palace of Ithaca.
At the outbreak of the Trojan Wars, Ulysses was tricked into joining the Greek princes in their bid to rescue Helen of Troy. The war lasted ten years and, after the fall of Troy, Ulysses set out for Ithaca.
His incredible journey home took him ten years and is the subject of the Odyssey – a Greek epic poem attributed to Homer. The poem tells how he vanquished the one-eyed Cyclops, escaped the clutches of the Sirens and the enchantress Circe, survived shipwrecks, lotus-eaters and the shades of the dead, and eventually returned to Penelope after an absence of 20 years.
Penelope had heard no news of her husband after the end of the Trojan Wars and found herself surrounded by unruly suitors clamouring for her hand. She refused them all, but they moved into the royal palace and lived riotously. Penelope promised to accept one of them when she had finished weaving a special garment on her loom, but each night she secretly unpicked the work she had done during the day.
Eventually her servants betrayed her to the suitors and she was forced to announce her choice of husband. She said she would marry the person who could draw the great bow of Ulysses.
All the suitors tried, but none of them could bend the bow.
Then Ulysses, disguised as a beggar, arrived at the palace. He stepped forward, drew the bow and fired at the troublesome suitors. Then he made himself known to his faithful wife.
Posted in Boats, English Literature, Historical articles, Literature, London, Rivers on Tuesday, 11 June 2013
This edited article about Jerome K. Jerome originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 288 published on 22 July 1967.
Who said, “I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours”?
The answer is ‘J.’ in Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome.
What one age thinks funny, another may think boring. Much 19th-century humour seems very heavy to us today, as anyone looking through old copies of Punch will discover. But Three Men in a Boat has never ceased to appeal to countless readers, not only in Britain but all over the world.
It is about a boat trip up the Thames – by George, Harris, J. (the author) and Montmorency, the dog. It is part comedy and part guide to the river, with plenty of stories thrown in – like Uncle Podger hanging a picture, and Harris (on another trip) getting himself and everyone else lost in Hampton Court Maze.
There are many amusing incidents on the trip. They forget to take a tin-opener and have a terrible battle with a tin of pineapples. Finally, they attack it with the mast. “We beat it out flat; we beat it back square; we battered it into every form known to geometry . . . Then George went at it, and knocked it into a shape, so strange, so weird, so unearthly in its wild hideousness, that he got frightened and threw away the mast.”
Montmorency, the dog, is a great character. To look at “you would imagine he was an angel sent upon the earth . . . in the shape of a small fox-terrier,” but he is a terror who likes to “collect a gang of the most disreputable dogs” to be found in the town and lead them out “to fight other disreputable dogs.”
The trio deliberately make steam launches stop: they squabble: they have a marvellous time. The quotation comes from Chapter 15 where they are arguing who shall scull and who shall steer. Each feels he is doing all the work. Finally, J. steers. “There was a time, long ago, when I used to clamour for the hard work: now I like to give the youngsters a chance.”
Finally, rain cuts their trip short: they are determined to stick it out, but, after two awful days, they catch a train back to London.
Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, Music, Scotland on Tuesday, 11 June 2013
This edited article about popular song originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 287 published on 15 July 1967.
A New Year's Greetings postcard
On New Year’s Eve, when families and friends get together and the clock strikes midnight, or when a party comes to an end, those present often link hands and sing Auld Lang Syne:
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind,
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And the days of auld lang syne.
Many people in the South have never been quite sure what ‘lang syne’ means. It means ‘long ago’.
Who wrote it? Robert Burns, the great Scots poet, is thought by many to be the author, but the truth is that there have been many authors and Burns never claimed to have originated it.
Burns lived from 1759 to 1796, but, two centuries before his birth, Sir Robert Ayton of Kilcandie wrote a poem with the lines:
Should old acquaintance be forgot
And never thought upon,
The flame of love extinguished
And fairly past and gone?
Is thy kind heart now grown so cold,
In that loving breast of thine,
That thou can’st never once reflect
On old lang syne?
Much later the words were read by Allan Ramsay, a poet. He wrote a new version which began:
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
Tho’ they return with scars
They are the noble hero’s lot
Obtained in glorious wars.
The song was published in his Tea Table Miscellany in 1725, and for a time was popular, but the words must have undergone changes after that.
Then Robert Burns came into the picture. In 1791 he wrote to George Thomson, his publisher: “One more song, and I am done – Auld Lang Syne. The air is mediocre, but the song, the old song of the older times, which has never been in print or even in manuscript until I took it down from an old man singing, is enough to recommend any air.”
The song was published in 1794 and the words are exactly as we know them today. But the tune which was published with it was soon abandoned.
The newer melody, which is the one we now sing, has a much disputed history. It has been credited to a composer named Shield, and the tune is very similar to one he used in his opera Rosina. The interesting point about this is that Rosina was first produced on 31st December, 1782 – the last day of the old year and the one with which the tune is now closely connected.
Its popularity has spread across the world. Some years ago the Boy Scouts of Switzerland adopted the song and the hand-grasping ceremony as a regular symbol of friendship. It is the final tune played when the cadets at the Military Academy at Sandhurst have their passing-out ceremony – followed by another tradition, when the Commanding Officer rides his horse up the steps of the pillared entrance!
Auld Lang Syne owes its origin to more than one poet, more than one composer: but its survival (and it will certainly be sung many centuries from now) we definitely owe to ‘Rabbie’ Burns.
Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Literature on Friday, 7 June 2013
This edited article about Harriet Beecher Stowe originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 283 published on 17 June 1967.
In the whole history of the world, probably no novel has had such an effect on the course of events as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It tells, dramatically, of the terrible conditions of slaves in the Southern States of America during the last century. This book was one of the chief factors in ending the slavery there. Today it is regarded as a children’s book.
The author was Harriet Beecher-Stowe. She was born at Whitfield, Connecticut, on 14th June, 1811. At the age of 25 she married a clergyman who was a famous anti-slavery preacher, the Rev. Edwin E. Stowe.
Harriet, who had always believed in the right of every person to live in freedom, began to help her husband in his campaigns. Together they fought the system where men, women, and children were regarded as the property of their masters, just as a farmer owns animals – only animals were often better treated than the unfortunate Africans who were brought as captives to work on the great plantations.
At length Harriet realised that public lectures and letters to newspapers were not enough. Somehow she had to make free people feel what it was like to be a slave. And so the idea of writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin grew. It was to be a book based on the lives of slaves.
In 1851 it began as a serial in the Washington newspaper, The National Era. To increase its impact on the civilised world, Harriet toured Europe gaining support for her cause. The next year the story of Uncle Tom, the old slave, appeared in book form. It had a sensational effect. American citizens of every walk of life – except the slave owners and those who profited from slavery – began to demand freedom for the Southern slave population. Harriet’s dream of seeing the end of slavery came true on 1st January, 1863, when President Lincoln made a proclamation to this effect. Harriet Beecher-Stowe died at her home at Hartford, Connecticut, on 1st July, 1896.
Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, London, Royalty on Friday, 7 June 2013
This edited article about William Caxton originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 283 published on 17 June 1967.
William Caxton shows his printing press to Edward IV and his sister, the Duchess of Burgundy by C L Doughty
With complete simplicity, William Caxton explains in the epilogue of his first printed book how he came to be involved (when bordering on old-age) with this revolution in book production.
Caxton was a resident at the court of Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, sister of England’s King, Edward IV. When Margaret learned that Caxton was engaged in a translation of a work called The Recuyell of the Historyes of Troy, she eagerly demanded to see what he had done.
“She commanded me straitly,” says Caxton, “to make an end of the residue then not translated; whose dreadful commandment I durst in no wise disobey.”
Margaret was not the only one eager to have copies of Caxton’s translation: “I have promised,” he said, “several gentlemen and my friends to address to them as hastily as I might this said book.”
But the thought of inscribing all the volumes individually, by hand, was too much for Caxton.
“My pen is worn, my hand weary and not so prone and ready to labour as it hath been . . .” he said. “Therefore I have practised and learned at my great trouble and expense to put this book into print, in the manner and form that you can see it here, and it is not written with pen and ink as other books are . . .”
Caxton’s modest explanation of his newly acquired profession covers an unusual story.
Read the rest of this article »
Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature, Music on Thursday, 6 June 2013
This edited article about George Sand originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 282 published on 10 June 1967.
George Sand took Chopin to a house in Nohant, France, where he continued to compose
‘George Sand’ was the pen name of Armandine Lucile Aurore Dupin, a French writer who wrote over 100 books and plays and who caused a sensation in her day by wearing men’s clothes.
Born in Paris on 5th July, 1804, Armandine grew up in an age when women were kept completely in the background. Her father was an aristocrat, her mother the daughter of a poor Paris bird-seller.
This strangely mixed background caused misunderstanding and tension in the home. After her mother’s death, the sensitive young girl was sent to a convent for her education. Here she began to dream of making a career for herself. It seemed a dream that would never be fulfilled – there were no ‘career girls’ in those days.
When her schooling was finished, Armandine married Casimir Dudevant in 1822. Although she had two children, she soon realised that her marriage was a failure. Dudevant was a slave of alcohol and she was forced to leave him.
It was then that her old dream of a career returned. In 1831, she joined the staff of the newly-launched newspaper Figaro. Women journalists were almost unknown then, and Armandine did everything she could to compete with her male colleagues. She even began to dress like a man so that she could feel on a more equal footing. This gained her a great reputation as an eccentric.
As well as working on the newspaper, she wrote a book called Rose et Blanche with another writer called Julien Sandeau. It appeared under the name of ‘Jules Sand’.
Her next book she wrote by herself. It was called Indiana, and the publisher, for publicity reasons, wanted to keep the name ‘Sand’. After negotiation with Julien Sandeau, it was agreed that Armandine’s book should be published under the name of ‘George Sand’.
The success of the book was tremendous. The critics were full of praise for the understanding the author showed for her characters. No doubt her unusual background and experiences had helped her to gain this.
Armandine was now in a position to give up her daily work. She went to Majorca to write more novels. Here she met the famous Polish composer Frederic Chopin. He was seriously ill with tuberculosis of the lungs. She nursed him back to health and was his constant friend for the next ten years, looking after him whenever his delicate health broke down. Unfortunately, their friendship ended in a bitter quarrel just before Chopin’s death in 1849. Armandine, alias George Sand, died on 8th June, 1876.
Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, Religion on Thursday, 6 June 2013
This edited article about Chaucer originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 282 published on 10 June 1967.
The knight and his squire among Chaucer's pilgrims to Canterbury by Paul Rainer
Who said, “He was a verray parfit gentil knight”?
The answer is Geoffrey Chaucer about the Knight in his Canterbury Tales.
Chaucer started his Canterbury Tales around 1387 but never completed them. They concern a party of thirty-one pilgrims (including the author) who assemble at the Tabard Inn in Southwark to travel to Thomas a Becket’s shrine at Canterbury Cathedral. After supper, the host suggests they will shorten the journey by telling each other two stories apiece on the way there, and two on the way back, the best storyteller to get a free supper! In fact, there are only twenty-three tales.
The most famous and important part of the work is the Prologue, not only because it is so interesting and amusing, but because it gives us a marvellous picture of the people of medieval England.
Every class of person is represented on the pilgrimage – merchant, lawyer, cook, carpenter, ploughman, doctor, monk and many more. At the head of the company (see the picture above) rides a knight and his son, a squire. The squire is a fine young man, fiery and strong, with curly locks. He has seen plenty of action already, sings and plays the flute, and is as “fresh as is the month of May”. He is madly in love and sleeps “as little as the nightingale”.
His father, the perfect knight of the quotation, is the finest type of medieval nobleman. He follows chivalry, the code by which medieval knights lived. A knight was expected to honour his word, respect women, protect the defenceless and defend the Faith – although he was allowed to enjoy fighting, which was then considered a great sport. This knight had fought in “fifteen mortal battles” all over Europe, as far east as Russia and in North Africa and Turkey. He was highly thought of.
His dress was simple and you could see where his armour had marked his tunic. He was just back from the wars and was going to Canterbury to give thanks for his safe return.