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Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Literature, London, News on Friday, 28 February 2014
This edited article about Charles Dickens first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 574 published on 13 January 1973.
Dickens sends his first literary efforts to the Monthly Magazine in a dark court off Fleet Street, by Peter Jackson
The 12-year-old boy left his first, long day at work close to rats and in a mood of deep despair. The dark, dirty warehouse seemed like a prison and the dull, mindless work of pasting labels on to bottles had felt endless. Only a year ago he had been attending school, immersed in his books and eagerly looking forward to a future that promised much. But although the young Charles Dickens did not then realise it, his parents were already in difficulty and the future was much less rosy than he imagined.
Life for the Dickens family had become a dreary, unhappy affair in which disaster always threatened. Furniture had to be sold and Charles, who could no longer be kept at school found himself running errands to the pawn shop instead. Often cold and hungry, he did not know that the worst was yet to come. Then a friend suggested he could be found work at the blacking factory for six shillings a week and so a fearful 12 year-old started his working career in the rat-infested old building that seemed to symbolise all that was wrong with the world.
Charles Dickens never forgot this episode in his life, even though times improved and he only worked there for a few months. Nor did he ever forget that he was one of the fortunate few in being rescued from such conditions and later, when he had become the most famous author of his time he did all in his power to improve conditions for the poor. His books made the public realise the scandals and abuses that existed and they helped reformers to create conditions in which changes could be made. Dickens could have little idea of the future that was to be his when he left the blacking factory, but he did have a burning ambition which drove him forward. The results echoed round the world, and also played a significant part in changing the country in which he lived.
Charles Dickens was born at Portsmouth in 1812. His father was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office and after a few years the family moved to Chatham and to London. The family’s changing fortunes sometimes made for a precarious existence and at one time (just after his start at the blacking factory) Charles’ father had to go to the Debtor’s Prison at Marshalsea. But later on prosperity returned and Charles was able to finish his schooling at the age of 15.
He started work as an office boy to a firm of solicitors but the law was a dull business to a young man with so much energy and later his father, after teaching him shorthand, was able to find him work as a newspaper reporter. Charles specialised in Parliamentary reports and soon became known as one of the fastest and most accurate reporters in the country.
When Parliament was not sitting he was sent by his paper all over the country to cover by-elections, important speeches and other occasions. Since this was before the telephone, speed was all important. The brisk Mr. Dickens, who was now a dashing young man, loved the excitement of working at high speed and then travelling as fast as horses could carry him in the hope of delivering his copy before his rivals!
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Posted in Famous crimes, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, News on Thursday, 27 February 2014
This edited article about Alfred Dreyfus first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 572 published on 30 December 1972.
Dreyfus being publicly humiliated
It was a cold, grey January morning in 1895. On a Paris parade ground troops were drawn up to form a hollow square. Behind them, a huge crowd stood and watched.
In the centre of the square, in full dress uniform, stood the lone figure of Captain Dreyfus.
The drums rolled. A General stepped forward and faced Dreyfus. The drums stopped rolling and there was complete silence. Then the General quickly ripped the badges of rank from Dreyfus’s shoulders. Next the gleaming uniform buttons were savagely torn off one by one. Finally the General took Dreyfus’s sword, broke it across his knee, and threw it to the ground. Dreyfus’s face drained of all colour, was set in rigid lines that betrayed no emotion.
Two guards moved forward to stand on either side of Dreyfus. They took a firm hold of his arms and started to march him slowly round the square. It was the final act of degradation. The crowd hurled abuse and derision at the man who had now been publicly branded a traitor to his country. Dreyfus lowered his head, unable to face the looks of contempt on the faces of his colleagues.
Next day Dreyfus, under close custody, started the long journey to the penal colony of Cayenne in French Guiana, South America. He remained in Cayenne a month while huts were built for him and his guards on a tiny island out in the bay. Its name was Devil’s Island. A fitting place perhaps for a traitor to spend the remainder of his life.
Except that Dreyfus was not a traitor. He was an innocent man.
It had been towards the end of summer the previous year that a long document, unsigned and unaddressed, fell into the hands of French Intelligence. It had been found in the room of the German Military Attache and gave a long list of plans and papers that the writer was in a position to be able to sell to the Germans.
Investigations were put in hand. The suspects were narrowed down to just a few. Captain Dreyfus was one of these – and he was Jewish. It seemed impossible that a true Frenchman could have been responsible for the document. But a Jew – well, that was a different matter. And so, even at this early stage, it was decided that Dreyfus was the guilty one.
Captain Dreyfus was summoned before Major Henry of Military Intelligence who told him: “You are under arrest charged with high treason.” Dreyfus stared at Major Henry in blank amazement. “I am innocent!” he shouted as he was taken away. He was put in solitary confinement for nearly two months. He was permitted no visitors, not even his wife. And although he was interrogated again and again he still did not know what the evidence was against him.
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Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, Illustrators, News, Politics, Royalty on Friday, 21 February 2014
This edited article about British art first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 562 published on 21 October 1972.
‘Clever Juvenile (loq.) "Shakespeare? Pooh! For my part, I consider Shakespeare a very much over-rated man"’ – Punch cartoon by John Leech
France was first in the field of social and political magazine journalism, with the magazines, “La Caricature” and “Le Charivari.” Britain was quick to seize upon a good thing.
“Punch, or the London Charivari” was born in 1841, and was directly inspired, as its sub-title suggests, by the French satirical weekly. In fact, however, “Punch” was predated by the “Monthly Sheet of Caricatures,” a lithographed journal put out by publisher Thomas McLean as early as 1830. John Doyle was the best of McLean’s artists, a statement which says much for the decline of the British political and satirical cartoon since the heady days of Gillray and of Cruikshank. John Doyle was a dull portrait painter who turned to producing dull cartoons of the statesmen of his day, in situations that made trite and stuffy comment on some political happening or other. It was a long cry from the acid pens of the great caricaturists of yesteryear.
By the mid-19th century and the coming of “Punch,” wood-engraving had begun to take over from copper-plate etching as a means of large-scale graphic reproduction. Cruikshank’s cartoons were worked directly on to the copper plate by the artist himself. But not every draughtsman had this special skill. Moreover, printing from a block is altogether cheaper than printing from an etching; so it was that a whole generation of new craftsmen appeared; professional wood-engravers, who did nothing but transfer other men’s drawings onto engraved blocks of wood for printing. Some of these engravers were good (one of the best was Edward Whymper, the first man to climb the Matterhorn), and some were not so good. The difference between the good and the not so good accounts for the flat, dull and “wooden” appearance of so much of the graphic work of the period. Thumb through any illustrated book or magazine of the period, and you will see it for yourself.
John Leech was a caricaturist in the great tradition; indeed he collaborated with George Cruikshank at one stage, and his style of drawing and choice of subjects greatly resembled those of the older artist.
It was Leech who first applied the word “cartoon” in its modern meaning, and it happened this way. In 1843, there was a big exhibition of designs submitted for the frescoes to be painted on the walls of the new Houses of Parliament, and these were correctly called “cartoons,” as finished working drawings had been so-called since the days of the Old Italian masters.
Finding most of the Houses of Parliament cartoons to be pretentious and ludicrous, Leech satirised them in a series of “cartoons” of his own. The name stuck, and remains stuck to this day, to this particular type of work.
Though he never attempted the grotesque excesses of Gillray, nor the near-criminal libellings of Cruikshank during his period with “The Scourge,” John Leech was a caricaturist who believed in giving his subjects a rough ride. He attacked the Prime Minister, Lord Russell, for his handling of the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, in a cartoon that was said to have contributed to Russell’s subsequent fall from power.
He reserved his strongest venom, however, for foreigners, especially the French. He attacked Louis Napoleon on many occasions. Thanks largely to his efforts, “Punch” was twice banned from France.
His dislike of foreigners did not blind Leech to the shortcomings of his own people. When the British government’s treatment of Little Greece exceeded the bounds of the precepts taught on the playing fields of Eton, he drew Mr Punch holding an extremely sneaky-looking lion by the ear and saying: “Why don’t you hit someone your own size?”
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Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, News, Politics, Royalty on Friday, 21 February 2014
This edited article about French art first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 561 published on 14 October 1972.
Pears; caricature of King Louis Philippe I of France, 1833 by Charles Philipon
For cartoon and caricature to have “bite” – that is to say the ability to fulfil the pen’s purpose of being mightier than the sword – they must be brought to the notice of a considerable number of people, in other words they must be published.
The British caricaturists whom we have been talking about so far – those of the 18th and early 19th centuries – were all published, or their works were published, by print-sellers. Gillray had his Mistress Humphrey, Rowlandson his Ackermann, and so on.
We have to look to France for the first real move that lifted caricatures and cartoons from the chancy business of the print-seller’s shop to the wide and popular medium of magazine journalism. And it was a move that was sparked off by the discernment of one man.
Charles Philipon was born in 1806, and at the age of seventeen he learned the lithographic process and started to draw caricatures – which, on account of his fine draughtsmanship, keen sense of satire and lively political awareness, he did uncommonly well.
In 1830, Louis Philippe was proclaimed king of the French. The rule of this undistinguished monarch (his gimmick was to walk the streets in a sober suit, carrying a rolled umbrella, and shaking hands with all and sundry) was marked by a political hurly-burly notable, even, for France. And poor old Louis Philippe, who was fat and unattractive, was criticised and lampooned by almost everybody.
It was in 1830 that Charles Philipon founded a journal of political satire which he called “La Caricature.” The career of this publishing squib was meteoric, influential – and cruelly brief. Philipon drew what amounts to a strip cartoon showing Louis Philippe in the process of transformation into a pear, and this pear symbol was used by all “La Caricature’s” artists to represent the king. Summonses for libel arrived at the magazine’s offices by nearly every post, but it was a lithograph of the king in the role of Gargantua (a monstrous character from the author Rabelais) that finally sunk “La Caricature.” It was suppressed.
The artist who made the Gargantua caricature, and the magazine’s most distinguished contributor – as well as one of the finest draughtsmen that France has ever produced – was Honore Daumier.
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Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History, News, Politics on Thursday, 20 February 2014
This edited article about British art first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 559 published on 30 September 1972.
It was a poet, Edward Bulwer-Lytton who coined the much-quoted truth:
“Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
“The pen is mightier than the sword.”
As a weapon of protest, attack or satire, the pen can be a deadly instrument. Even the best intentioned rulers and leaders have tended – and still tend – to dislike criticism, particularly when it is served up in the form of pictorial satire and ridicule.
In this series, we shall be dealing exclusively with the pen as a weapon of satire and comment in the field of graphic art.
Two terms we shall use are “caricature” and “cartoon.” Caricature is an exaggerated way of drawing a subject, whether it is the size of a man’s nose, the height of a mountain or the speed of a horse.
It comes from the Italian word “caricare,” which means to overload with exaggerated detail.
Nobody knows the name of the earliest caricaturist. But by the beginning of the 16th century, highly-regarded serious artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Durer were making satirical comments on the shape and character of the human face that had everyone in stitches of laughter.
Also serious and respectable is the origin of the word “cartoon.” In the days of the Renaissance, it was simply the name given to the finished and perfected drawing from which the artist worked to paint his picture.
By the mid-19th century, most painters were working more or less directly on to the canvas, so the word slipped into disuse.
It picked up an entirely new meaning when the humorous magazine “Punch” used it to describe the type of drawing that relies upon parody and satire and the devices of caricature.
By this name, we know the political and humorous drawings that are so much a part of newspapers and topical magazines today.
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Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, News, War on Friday, 17 January 2014
This edited article about Winston Churchill first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 517 published on 11 December 1971.
Young Winston Churchill makes his escape by train, in the company of a vulture
To call it an armoured train was something of an exaggeration. It was actually an old pensioned-off engine, fired by coal, and towing five dilapidated but reasonably strong trucks containing some hundred men and an ancient muzzle-loading gun that had originally belonged to the Navy.
Yet it was considered serviceable enough to be used as a reconnaissance unit during the second Boer War of 1899-1902. Each day it laboriously chugged its way behind the enemy lines and returned with information about the number of Boer troops and weapons and how they were being deployed.
It would be an exciting scoop for a journalist to travel on the train on one of its scouting missions along the Natal front. And, on 15th November, 1899, that is exactly what Winston Spencer Churchill, chief war correspondent of the Morning Post, succeeded in doing.
At the time the future Prime Minister of England was a chubby, pink-faced young man of twenty-five. Determined to make a name for himself as a newspaperman, he begged an old friend of his, a Captain Haldane, to find him a place on the train which Haldane was commanding.
After warning Churchill – whom he had known in India – about the dangers involved. Haldane readily agreed. The train was going from Estcourt to Chieveley, two settlements some fifteen miles apart, and the engine had been placed in the middle of the train to give it maximum protection from attack.
All went well until the train rattled into Chieveley, its funnel belching thick black smoke. Then one of the look-outs noticed a group of Boer soldiers creeping up behind the train. The alarm was given and Haldane sent the train swaying back along the track it had just travelled.
The worn-out engine was in reverse and could not reach its limited top speed. The Boers set off in pursuit and had little difficulty in keeping the train within rifle-range. Even so, Haldane believed he could reach the British lines before all his men were picked-off by the enemy snipers.
He might well have done this but for a boulder which the Boers had craftily laid across the line. There was not time to stop and try to remove the obstacle. Haldane sent the train pelting straight into the boulder in the hope that the trucks at the front would clear the track and enable the rest of the train to get through.
The front two waggons crashed violently and noisily into the boulder and were derailed. The soldiers were thrown about like so many uniformed dolls, and some were badly hurt.
Haldane then ordered everyone to leave the trucks, and detailed a squad of men to start clearing the line. As they did so the Boers opened fire on the trapped train with field-guns, and for a while it seemed as if no one would escape with his life.
After more than an hour, however, the soldiers, with Churchill supervising, had shifted enough rubble – and the boulder – to allow the wounded to be put in the engine and taken to a hospital in British territory.
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Posted in Famous battles, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Medicine, News, War on Thursday, 12 December 2013
This edited article about the Crimean War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 493 published on 26 June 1971.
C L Doughty
The end of the Crimean War came quite unexpectedly. On 5th September, 1855, the allies began a crippling bombardment of Sebastopol which they kept up without pause for three days and nights, hurling more than 150,000 rounds of ammunition into the beleaguered stronghold in a single night.
There was panic, now, in the city. The Russians began strengthening their position on the north side – throwing up batteries, dragging guns into position, and preparing to defend themselves should they be forced to evacuate the garrison.
On the third day of the assault The Times’ distinguished war correspondent, Sir William Russell wrote: “A dull, strange silence, broken at distant intervals by the crash of citadels and palaces as they were blown to dust, succeeded to the incessant dialogue of the cannon which had spoken so loudly and so angrily throughout the entire year. . . .”
It was obviously the psychological moment for the allies to clinch their victory.
Again it was decided that the French should attack the Malakoff fortress, and the British the Redan. At mid-day on 8th September the French came out from their trenches close to the Malakoff, scrambled up its face and were through the embrasures in the twinkling of an eye.
But it was not the end of the action; the Russians fought back bravely, but finally, at considerable cost to both sides, the Malakoff was held.
Unbelievably, after so much experience of disaster, the British Generals sent fewer than 1,500 men into the attack on the Redan. To make matters worse, the Russians were expecting them.
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Posted in Communications, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, News, War on Tuesday, 10 December 2013
This edited article about the Crimean war first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 486 published on 8 May 1971.
Mr. W. H. Russell, Correspondent of the "Times" in the Crimea
The names of Crimean battles ring down through British history like trumpet calls: Alma, Inkerman, Balaclava, Sebastopol. Yet there was little that was truly glorious about that muddy, bloody, and agonising war which, like so many others, need never have been fought at all.
There was, though, one big difference between this and the other unnecessary wars that had been fought before. For the first time someone was going to tell the truth, the whole truth, not only about the fighting but about the muddle and mismanagement which caused more massacre, mutilation and misery than all the enemy’s guns and sabres put together. He was a big, jolly, outspoken Irishman named William Howard Russell, who worked as Special Correspondent for The Times.
There had been war reporters before Russell, but none of them did much more than report the results of battles witnessed at a distance. Russell – much against the will of the Army Command – lived and ate and slept, sweated, and scratched, and froze with the men who fought. He went with them into the thick of the fighting, and he sat out the long, bitter, winter of 1854-55 on the heights before the fortress of Sebastopol, waiting for the Russians to be starved out. He risked death not only from wounds, but from half-a-dozen killer diseases.
His eyes and ears were permanently vigilant, and he wrote down everything he heard and saw, with a pen so eloquent that even today the word-pictures he painted leap from the page.
The war began on a wave of almost hysterical patriotism, with banners waving, bands playing, men in scarlet and blue uniforms trimmed with glittering buttons marching like machines; but few people really knew what it was all about. The Crimea is a small peninsula – virtually an island – thrusting south from the body of Russia into the Black Sea, towards Turkey. Why on earth should a 19th-century British army have gone to fight there?
The root causes of war are never simple, but like so many others, this one was sparked off by a quite small, comparatively unimportant, incident in one of the most unlikely places imaginable: Bethlehem! It was, at least in the early stages, a religious war – or more accurately a religious squabble – a sort of holy “who-does-what” dispute.
At this time the Holy Land was part of a crumbling Turkish Empire, though many other countries, through their religious interests, claimed rights there. The Roman Catholics, for example, were strongly supported by France, and the Orthodox Church by Russia.
In the summer of 1853, some Roman Catholic monks decided to fix a silver star over the manger in the Church of the Nativity. The Orthodox monks tried to stop them. A fight broke out, and several Orthodox monks were killed. The Russians were furious with the Turkish police for not keeping order, and even hinted that the Turks had connived at the “murders.”
In fact Russia had for some time been seeking an excuse to disrupt the Turkish Empire which at that time included Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece, and most of the Asian part of the Middle East. By doing so she hoped to take over some of its territories and so break through from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean. In time she hoped to stretch out even farther – overland to India and the great trade routes.
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Posted in Australia, Geology, Historical articles, History, News on Friday, 15 November 2013
This edited article about Australia first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 460 published on 7 November 1970.
A gold rush that wasn't was started in Western Australia when a man called McCann was said to have found gold
A local paper broke the news, and soon afterwards the gold-rich town of Coolgardie in Western Australia was in an uproar. A new and incredibly rich gold field had been found, so the paper claimed, to the south of the town.
Rumour was rampant, as groups of men set off in every direction to the alleged spots – and there were plenty of them – where the gold was said to be. They took to the bush on foot, on bicycles, on horses, and even on camels, which had been imported earlier to cope with local desert conditions. It was 1892 and the temporary citizens of Coolgardie and district were on the move.
One paper had named a miner called McCann as the man who had made the actual gold strike. The question being asked was, where was McCann?
Soon, thousands of angry miners were pouring back into town, their tempers, regularly on the boil, becoming more frayed every minute. They blamed the papers for publishing false information and the papers blamed McCann. This was gold fever gone sour and therefore at its worst.
Western Australia had been very much cut off from the rest of the nation until gold was found there in the late 1880s, nearly 40 years after the first great Australian gold rush. The sheer distance to get to the new gold fields made it a hard place for treasure-hunters to reach, and dust, hostile Aborigines and thirst added to their difficulties, making it the most rugged of all Australian gold rushes. Many died, but some of those that survived struck it unbelievably rich, making Western Australia the wealthiest gold-mining area on the continent, incidentally, hastening its political union to the rest of Australia.
The Coolgardie goldfield was discovered in 1892 and a town sprang up full of tough “diggers” of many nationalities. Yet the miners, like miners everywhere, believed in a rough frontier justice, which in Australia was known as “Diggers’ justice.” For instance, one Western Australian miner cheated a mate of £80 worth of gold, for which he was almost hanged without a trial. Finally, something almost worse happened! He was expelled from his camp and details of his “trial” were sent to goldfield newspapers everywhere, so that wherever he went he was treated as a social outcast, a veritable leper.
His crime had been bad enough, but to start a false gold-strike story was considered far, far worse. Yet perhaps McCann really had struck gold. But where was he?
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Leisure, Literature, News on Wednesday, 9 October 2013
This edited article about Victorian England originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 420 published on 31 January 1970.
Victorian Bournemouth boasted a splendid pier by Harry Green
The very word Victorian still sums up in the minds of many people a dark and dreary century, a Dickensian era of frowning, stiff-collared men and plain, straight-haired women in crinoline dresses. But if you had lived a hundred years ago life would have seemed far from dreary. You would have thought that you were living in an exciting age of change, and you would have been right.
Your Victorian father would have been able to tell you about how difficult it was for him to strike a light when he was a boy. In his youth it was a tedious ritual of rubbing together a steel and flint to make a spark that fell into a box of tinder which glowed and, if he were lucky, ignited a match tipped with sulphur.
Looking at the matchbox in your hand, which hasn’t changed much from the matches we can buy today, you would have been delighted to live in that age of progress.
The second half of the 19th century was the apogee of the Victorian era; the era of the great British Empire, of heavy and elaborate furniture and objets d’art, of gas lamps, the Co-operative movement, temperance, the growth of afternoon tea drinking, bicycling, the music hall, and hundreds of other innovations which were all aimed at increasing the living standards of people in a prosperous land.
One of the greatest strides forward by the Victorians was in education. Exactly 100 years ago (1870) an Education Act decreed that all children between five and 13 should attend school, although it was made possible to leave at ten in certain circumstances. Before the Act was passed only half the children in Britain had any schooling; the rest either worked or roamed the streets.
The 1870 Act was gradually improved upon, so that by the 1890s most children and young men could at least read. The effect on communications was startling. Within a few short years hundreds of thousands of people could read a halfpenny newspaper and a penny magazine, and enterprising journalists like Alfred Harmsworth (later Lord Northcliffe) and Sir Arthur Pearson became great publishers to ensure that the new mass readership was catered for.
We have already seen how the fever of early Victorian railway building opened up undreamed of opportunities for travel. There was no abatement of this progress during the second half of the century, and one of the favourite destinations of all Victorians was the seaside.
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