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Posted in Historical articles, History, Revolution, Science on Saturday, 4 May 2013
This edited article about Antoine Lavoisier originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 241 published on 27 August 1966.
In France, tables of weights and measures are based on the metric system which works in tens, so that many calculations can be done easily by moving a decimal point.
One of the scientists who helped to ‘invent’ the metric system was Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, who was born in Paris on 26th August, 1743. Lavoisier was interested in chemistry and made many notable discoveries.
In 1792, Lavoisier was appointed Director of the Academy of Sciences. He was a member of the committee which recommended the metric system.
In 1793, an unsuccessful scientist, a member of the French revolutionary tribunal, published a book on the nature of gases. It was full of elementary errors which the author claimed had been passed by the Academy of Science. Lavoisier immediately denied that the Academy had ever seen the manuscript, and went on to prove that the author knew nothing about the sciences.
Unfortunately for Lavoisier, the discredited author had powerful friends in the government and through them Lavoisier was arrested and put on trial.
On 8th May, 1794, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. His defending lawyer submitted that Lavoisier was a scientist engaged in the important work of introducing the new metric system. To that, the Judge made what was to become a notorious statement: “La Republique n’a pas besoin des savants” (The Republic has no need of men of science). Next morning, Lavoisier was guillotined.
Posted in Engineering, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Industry, Revolution on Monday, 29 April 2013
This edited article about John Kay originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 235 published on 16 July 1966.
A weaver sits at a loom showing the workings of the flying shuttle
Man has been weaving cloth for thousands of years, but until the flying shuttle was invented by John Kay, born on July 16, 1704, the weaver’s craft had hardly changed since the days of Ancient Egypt.
Cloth is woven by passing horizontal threads, called the weft, through alternate vertical threads called the warp. The weft threads were held in a device called a shuttle, which was sent forward through the warp threads by one hand, and returned by the other.
John Kay was the son of a weaver and he had often watched his father swinging the shuttle backwards and forwards by hand. It occurred to him that there must be some easier way of moving the shuttle.
He made experiments and in 1733 took out a patent for a new type of loom, needing only one hand to pass the shuttle backwards and forwards through the warp. He also invented an automatic mechanism which closed up the threads of the weft much more tightly.
Weaving firms quickly realised that Kay’s Flying Shuttle would greatly speed up production, but had no intention of paying for the idea. In court Kay’s claims were upheld, but the legal costs were so heavy that he lost most of his money.
Kay managed to open a factory of his own, but the weavers, fearing the new looms would put many of them out of work, wrecked his workshop.
Kay went to France for a time. He invented a power loom but was too poor to develop it. He returned to England to find the weavers making huge profits out of his invention. He died in poverty in 1764.
Posted in America, Historical articles, History, London, Revolution, Science on Friday, 12 April 2013
This edited article about Benjamin Franklin originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 224 published on 30 April 1966.
Franklin and his son demonstrating that lightning is simply electricity by Peter Jackson
Benjamin Franklin is commemorated by a square-looking red tablet with gilded lettering at No. 36 Craven Street, near Trafalgar Square, where he lived for a number of years when on official visits to England.
He liked London, in spite of his saying that “The whole town is one great smoaky house. . . .” In all he spent 16 years in England and might have settled here but for the War of Independence.
Franklin spent much time trying to avert this war, but this did not prevent him taking an active part in achieving his country’s independence once he realized that the struggle was inevitable.
He returned home to America in 1775, and was immediately appointed to the committee which was drawing up the Declaration of Independence. Afterwards he went to France to secure military aid, and remained there as his country’s representative throughout the war.
Franklin rendered almost his last public service when, as president of the Pennsylvania executive council, he played a leading role in drawing up the American Constitution. The final document was not entirely to his liking. Nevertheless, he thought it important that the final decision should be unanimous, a result he achieved by skilful diplomacy and goodwill.
The tenth son of a soap and candle maker who had emigrated from Banbury, Oxfordshire, in 1683, Benjamin joined his father’s business at ten years of age. This he did not like, so he became apprenticed to one of his elder brothers, who was a printer. At sixteen he ran his brother’s paper, the New England Courant, for a month while James served a jail sentence for being too outspoken about Massachusetts officials and their lack of speed in suppressing piracy.
Afterwards Benjamin quarrelled with his brother and set off for New York. He found no work there, so he again set off on a journey, this time to Philadelphia, where he arrived virtually penniless. He had a job there for a time in a local print shop, and then came to London, where he found similar work.
It was in London that he first showed his real mettle when he had to set up the type for a book containing theories he felt bound to refute, and proceeded to do so in a book of his own.
Returning to America in 1726, he set up his own business and made sufficient money to retire at an early age, with the intention of writing and studying science. He was responsible for a number of inventions, but he is particularly famous for his experiments with electricity. He was the first to link lightning with electricity, and he invented the lightning conductor. Many terms now commonly used in electrical work originated from him.
Benjamin Franklin’s ideas were very advanced for his time. “The rapid progress true science now makes,” he once wrote, “occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born too soon.”
Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Religion, Revolution, Royalty on Thursday, 28 March 2013
This edited article about Henrietta Maria originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 215 published on 26 February 1966.
Henrietta Maria watches her husband, Charles I, say farewell to their children as tragedy engulfs the royal family by Clive Uptton
It was seven o’clock on a cold, wet Sunday evening in 1623, when young Henrietta Maria, the daughter of the King of France, first set foot on English soil. Her voyage from Boulogne had been arduous, and had lasted a whole day. She was tired, and a little frightened because of the unusual purpose of her visit.
At the inexperienced age of fifteen, Henrietta had married a man she had scarcely seen – Charles I, the twenty-five year old ruler of England. The marriage had taken place by proxy in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, without Charles being present. Now he and his bride were to get to know each other for the first time.
As she nervously acknowledged the greetings of the crowd gathered at Dover, Henrietta looked vainly around for her husband. He was nowhere to be seen, and she was told that she would not meet him until the following morning. The night would be spent in Dover Castle, which would enable her to recover from the voyage, and be fresh and cheerful again.
Charles had become interested in Henrietta during the previous year when he stopped briefly at the French court while travelling to Spain. He was on his way to woo the Spanish Infanta, whom he was bound by treaty to marry. The treaty, however, was later repudiated, and Charles was free to choose another bride for himself.
The wooing of Henrietta was in fact initially conducted on Charles’s behalf by Lord Kensington, who visited her and her parents in Paris. He liked the little girl very much, and sent enthusiastic letters back to Charles calling her “a lovely sweet young Creature.” What was more, she thought Charles would make her an excellent husband.
But despite Henrietta’s approval, the wedding did not proceed smoothly. Her father, Henry VI, was a Catholic, and he refused to give his consent to the match until the English Catholics were granted freedom from persecution. Once this was guaranteed, he considered his daughter as good as married.
It was not until some months later that this condition was fulfilled. The marriage treaty was signed in Paris, and in London gun salutes were fired, church bells rung, and bonfires lit in the streets as the citizens obeyed the “publike commaundment” to rejoice.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature, Music, Revolution on Friday, 15 March 2013
This edited article about the Marseillaise originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 198 published on 30 October 1965.
“My son, you have written a brigand’s song, and I am ashamed of you!”
So wrote the mother of young Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle at a time when the soldiers of France were singing the inspired words of his new revolutionary song, the Marseillaise.
It was not surprising, for young de Lisle was born of Royalist stock. But he had seen too much of suffering and poverty to let that influence him.
De Lisle, a young French officer of engineers, was at the house of the Mayor of Strasbourg on the night of April 23, 1792, and there was universal agreement that the French soldiers needed a stirring patriotic song.
De Lisle had words and music buzzing in his head all night, and finally fell asleep in his quarters without having written down a word, or a note. But in the morning he put it all on paper, and sang it through for the first time.
We can imagine how the words and the melody stirred the blood of those who heard it. Later in England Carlyle said, “The sound of it will make the blood tingle in men’s veins, and whole armies will sing it with eyes weeping and hearts burning with defiance of Death and the Devil.”
The young soldier had never for a moment realized how far his inspiration would grip the imagination. The name was changed from Chant de guerre to La Marseillaise because of the enthusiasm with which the revolutionary troops from Marseilles sang it as they entered Paris. A Republican general declared that its patriotism was worth a thousand extra men to his ranks, and for it men would serve, and die if needs be, for France.
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Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Revolution, War on Thursday, 7 March 2013
This edited article about Napoleon Bonaparte originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 177 published on 5 June 1965.
A teacher in the Paris military school wrote in the year 1784 about Napoleon Bonaparte, one of his fifteen-year-old pupils: “He will go far if circumstances favour him.”
A year later the boy about whom that was written was commissioned lieutenant in the French Army. Within a dozen years he was a General leading an army in Italy and springing upon his invasion troops one of the stirring proclamations with which he was beginning to electrify men’s minds:
“Soldiers, you are ill-fed and almost naked. The government owes you much but can do nothing for you. Your patience and courage do you honour but procure you neither glory nor advantage.
“I shall now lead you into one of the most fertile plains in the world. There you will find great cities and rich provinces; there you will find honour, glory and riches. Soldiers, would you be found lacking in courage?”
Before that century was over, with victory after victory behind him, all France cast herself headlong into the arms of the extraordinary Napoleon Bonaparte. So much did he astonish Frenchmen with his sense of destiny, so much did he dazzle them by his military conquests, that they, who had been convulsed in revolution against autocratic rule only a few years previously, made him virtually dictator of France – as absolute a ruler over them as their kings had been.
Curiously, Napoleon, the greatest man in French history, into twenty years of whose life the whole of Europe’s story is condensed, was born neither a Frenchman nor a friend of France. His birthplace on August 15, 1769, was at Ajaccio in Corsica, a tree-studded island off the west coast of Italy which had been sold by Genoa to the French in 1768.
As the young Napoleon grew up he learned to hate the name of his country’s rulers. At school he was ridden by an ambition to become a soldier. In the mornings when he left home his mother would give him dainty sandwiches for his lunch. But Napoleon wanted to eat only the tough, crusty black bread that soldiers ate, so to the first soldier he met he gave his sandwiches in exchange for a crust of black bread.
At playtime he would drill his friends in army style. Sometimes his quick temper would get the better of him on these occasions, and his mother would then deal severely with him.
But when he became the greatest man in the world Napoleon spoke with loving fondness of his mother. “It is to her that I owe my success and any great thing I have accomplished,” he said. “She is a wonderful woman, a woman of superb courage.”
At military school in France Napoleon slowly adjusted his feelings towards the country that had bought his beloved Corsica. Then, when he passed his final examination to become an officer, he put on his lieutenant’s uniform, slung his sword over his shoulder and went off with his new regiment to look for honour and glory.
Meanwhile, in Paris the revolutionary forces were plotting to overthrow the new Republic of France. In command of the 5,000 Government troops was a cunning man named Paul Barras, facing 40,000 determined rebels. Barras now promoted the young officer and directed him to use his skill and energy against the insurgents.
The revolutionaries came from various sections of Paris. They were badly organized and without an eminent leader and Napoleon, taking in the situation with his keen eyes, ordered his artillery into strategic positions in the city streets. When the revolutionary mob reached Paris and advanced down its streets Napoleon commanded his cannon to fire.
There was no escape for the rebels. Shot after shot pounded into the sections and turned them into a bewildered and fleeing rabble. Within half a day they were crushed, and the Day of the Sections, as it was called, resulted in complete victory for Napoleon Bonaparte.
All France knew something now of the brilliant young military mind blossoming in her army. Promoted again, Napoleon married a beautiful widow named Josephine Beauharnais. Then came his glorious Italian campaign.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Revolution, Royalty on Wednesday, 6 March 2013
This edited article about the French Revolution originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 176 published on 24 May 1965.
The mob burst into the Tuileries Palace, killing the Swiss Guards and ransacking the rooms, until they were confronted by Louis XVI himself. Picture by William Rainey
The citizens were in command. They had wrecked the fortress prison of the Bastille in Paris and they had brought King Louis the Sixteenth to the capital and forced him to listen to their speeches for liberty and equality in their new National Assembly. Paris might still be hungry, but it was nonetheless jubilant.
Men stricken by poverty become hard and bitter and vengeful. The nobles of France sensed the mood and hastily packed their bags and fled. These emigres, as they were called, did not stop until they were beyond the borders of France.
While the emigres used all their influence to win military support from the rest of Europe for an attack upon the new French government, the National Assembly struck back by decreeing that henceforth there would be no nobles. All titles were abolished, save the one common to every man: “Citizen.” By this single act the proudest aristocracy in Europe was levelled with the peasant.
Rebellions, however, do not necessarily provide food for the hungry, as the wives of Paris found out. Somehow the idea caught on among them that if the King, who had been allowed to return to Versailles, were brought back to the capital, there would be bread for the starving. This idea quickly spread when news came that a banquet had been held at the palace of Versailles and some aristocrats, in an excess of high living, had dared to trample on the red, white and blue coloured symbol of the Revolutionaries.
Soon the road to the royal palace was filled with angry wives. “To Versailles!” they cried. “To the King for bread!”
When they arrived at the royal residence the mob unceremoniously set up camp. To Versailles, too, came the National Guard, commanded by General La Fayette. But the General’s guard was not sufficiently watchful, for as the dull dawn of a new morning, drizzly and chill, broke over the tense scene some of the encamped mob found a way into the palace.
In vain the guards tried to push them back. Becoming anxious, a guardsman loaded his musket and fired. A man’s arm was shattered and the rage of the mob erupted. They smashed their way past the guards, tore along the corridors, up the staircases and broke into the Queen’s bedroom. But Marie Antoinette was warned in time and had already escaped by a secret passage to the King’s apartments.
To the sound of trumpet and alarm drum La Fayette now arrived to restore order. Forced outside again, the mob called for the King to appear, and when Louis came out on to the balcony the cry went up as if from one throat, “The King to Paris!”
Before the day was out Louis and his family were back at the capital, virtually prisoners of their own people in the gloomy apartments at the Tuileries. There for many months they lived, watched, suspected and accused by all Paris.
A year after the fall of the Bastille the National Assembly had worked out its new Constitution for France. The ceremony of its adoption was held in a huge field called the Champ de Mars on the left bank of the River Seine, and among the 300,000 people who came to watch was King Louis. It seemed as the King took the oath to be faithful to the new Constitution that all the troubles were over. Alas, that was far from the truth.
The first leader of the National Assembly was Mirabeau, a nobleman who had rejected his title to fight for the people’s cause. Mirabeau had been instrumental in keeping down the more violent members of the Revolutionary leaders, and had he lived there might have been a very different story to tell about these final years of the eighteenth century. But early in 1791 Mirabeau died.
His successor was a man named Danton, who, with his advisers Robespierre and Marat, was a member of the violent Republican organization called the Jacobins.
In these three men and their aggressive views King Louis rightly saw his enemies. Now he abandoned all hope of a peaceful solution to the problems of France and he determined to flee from the country with his family.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Revolution, Royalty on Wednesday, 6 March 2013
This edited article about France originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 175 published on 17 May 1965.
Mirabeau addresses the National Assembly in defiance of Louis XVI’s command to disband the institution by John Millar Watt
The great Louis the Fourteenth – the Sun King his courtiers had called him in likeness to a demi-god – was dead, and the cost of his extravagances and his life of luxury lay heavily upon the nation he had ruled single-handed for more than half a century.
The absolute monarchy shaped by Cardinal Richelieu and perfected by Louis the Fourteenth still stood. But the rot had begun to set in. The kingdom, miserably crushed by the debts incurred by years of war, was still basically a rural one, and Jacques Goodfellow, the peasant backbone of France, was starving.
To the throne came a five-year-old boy, Louis the Fifteenth. His age alone was a sufficiently complete handicap to the rule of an absolute monarchy, but Louis was to prove as he grew up that he had many other handicaps to proper government.
In the meantime the Duke of Orleans became Regent. He was a wasteful, lazy man, so that he needed the diligence of the man he chose as his adviser, the Abbe Dubois, to keep the government working.
Dubois, a small, thin, weasel-faced clergyman, was a hard worker but a useless adviser. He committed a host of public follies; then, to the relief of his country, he died in 1723.
In that year Louis became thirteen years old, an age at which it was considered he was fit enough to rule. For his adviser he chose the Duke of Bourbon, another singularly greedy and selfish man, who pushed the country a little farther down the road to ruin. At last Bourbon was forced to leave his office and the young King chose his old tutor, Cardinal Fleury, to advise him.
Fleury was an honest and intelligent man, but there was not much he could do to stop the peasants starving. It was said that “men died like flies from poverty and hard living.” Paris was by no means the worst area affected but when in September, 1739, Louis rode out to his new palace of Choisy the people besieged his carriage with cries of “Distress! Famine! Bread!” At the end of the following year a writer says that “misery had slain more French in one year than all the wars of Louis the Fourteenth.”
But war was never far from the mind of this miserable land. When in 1740 the Emperor of Austria died the succession passed to his daughter, twenty-three-year-old Maria Theresa. France, in common with other European countries, then decided that rich Austria ruled by a young woman was an easy prize and the War of the Austrian Succession began. Maria Theresa fled from Vienna and, enlisting the aid of Hungary, inflicted a crushing defeat on the greedy French.
Cardinal Fleury, now ninety years old, had bitterly opposed the war and he lived only long enough to see France begin it badly. To the joy of his people, who knew no better, Louis now announced that he would rule alone.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Religion, Revolution, Royalty, Scotland on Friday, 1 March 2013
This edited article about James Graham, Earl of Montrose originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 170 published on 17 April 1965.
A prisoner of the Scottish chieftain with whom he had sought shelter, Montrose was handed over to his old and determined enemy, the Earl of Argyll, by C L Doughty
The ugly mood of the congregation sitting in the pews of Brechin Cathedral, in Scotland, was certainly not in keeping with the harmonious atmosphere that normally prevailed there during a religious service.
The congregation, in turn, could argue with some force that it was not customary for the bishop to conduct his service with two loaded pistols at his elbow.
There was no doubt about it. On this particular Sunday of July 23, 1637, the bishop and his congregation were not as one. The cause of the tension between them was lying on the pulpit in front of the bishop. Oddly enough, it was a prayer book.
The prayer book was a new one, issued on the orders of King Charles the First, and the Scottish people sitting there detested it. They had been used to simple prayers from the heart, and the new book had mechanical set words and answers.
Furthermore, there were things in it which seemed to belong more to the Church of Rome than to Presbyterianism. To the proud Scots this interference with their faith was intolerable. But the congregation at Brechin Cathedral remained silent, intimidated by the bishop’s set of pistols lying on the crimson pulpit cushions.
At most other churches the introduction of the new prayer book caused scenes which had never been seen in a church before. At St. Giles’s church in Edinburgh the bishop’s reading from the prayer book was the immediate signal for a shower of folding stools and clasp Bibles.
The uproar in the churches was only the beginning. On November 15 of the same year the peers and lesser barons of Scotland produced between them a document that became known as the National Covenant. It was a document of resistance, in which all those who signed it swore to defend their religion to the utmost of their power.
While a dozen copies were being made for messengers to carry from town to town for signatures, hundreds were rapidly signing their names to the original document in Edinburgh. One of the first signatures on it belonged to James Graham, Earl of Montrose.
Montrose, who was only twenty-five at the time, was a talented and handsome young man who had acquired a great deal of polish from living in France and Italy for three years. A skilled horseman and swordsman, as well as being something of a minor poet, he could have taken his place with ease with the other Scottish nobles who surrounded King Charles at his court in England.
Instead, by the act of signing his name to the Covenant, he was taking the first step along the tortuous road that was to lead him to the gallows.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Revolution, Royalty on Thursday, 28 February 2013
This edited article about Mexico originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 165 published on 13 March 1965.
Napoleon III’s troops landed on the shores of Mexico and eventually marched into Mexico City against Benito Juarez, by Angus McBride
Although it was dark, it was not late. Certainly not late enough to account for the streets being completely deserted.
To the couple sitting in the carriage that was rattling over the primitive roads of Veracruz, Mexico, it was another ominous sign to reinforce the misgivings that had assailed them on their arrival in Mexico. They had expected a royal welcome, with thousands of cheering people to greet them, but instead they had been kept waiting on the moored boat until General Almonte had finally arrived, five hours late, to escort them to Mexico City.
The General had been apologetic about his late arrival, and a little embarrassed by the lack of any demonstration, which naturally needed some explanation. Forced to give it, he had mumbled something about the people of Veracruz being strongly opposed to being ruled by a foreign monarch.
It was the night of May 26, 1864, and the couple in the carriage were Maximilian, brother of the Austrian Emperor, Francis Joseph, and his wife Charlotte (pronounced Car-lot-a). Whatever doubts this couple might have had about the future, neither of them could have imagined the nightmare that was to come – especially Charlotte, who was to be haunted by it through the long, long years until her death in 1927.
To find out why Charlotte and her husband were there in the first place, we have to go back to January 11, 1861, when a black carriage entered Mexico City, almost unnoticed.
Inside it sat a grim-faced Indian named Benito Juarez, who had just become the new President of Mexico. Juarez had good cause to be grim faced. He had fought and won a bloody revolution, and he was anxious now to bring peace and prosperity to his country. But unhappily the finances of the nation were in a deplorable condition, and what was worrying Juarez now was where he was going to get enough money to put the country back on its feet.
Juarez tried to solve the problem by suspending all payments on foreign debts. It was a reasonable enough action in the circumstances.
It was at this stage that a new character stepped on the scene – Napoleon the Third of France, a ruthless, vainglorious man, who yearned to be as great as his famous uncle, Napoleon the First. Forever looking for ways in which he could expand his colonies, he had already cast a greedy eye on the young republics of Latin America. Mexico, with her enormous pile of unpaid bills, would provide the excuse he was looking for to start building his empire.
Within three years Napoleon the Third had achieved his aim. He had crushed the Mexican army in the field, driven Juarez into hiding, and chosen a suitable monarchy, loyal to his crown. The royal couple were Maximilian and his wife, Charlotte, the daughter of King Leopold of Belgium.
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