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Archive for April, 2012

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Simon Bolivar cast off South America’s Spanish yoke

Posted in Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Politics, War on Monday, 30 April 2012

This edited article about Simon Bolivar originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 697 published on 24 May 1975.

Simon Bolivar, picture, image, illustration

Simon Bolivar by Ron Embleton

On a summer’s day in 1805, Simon Bolivar stood on the warm green slopes of Monte Sacro, just outside Rome and made a vow. Black eyes glittering with fervour, he raised his hand and proclaimed: “I swear on my life and my honour that I shall not rest until I have liberated South America from the rule of Spanish tyrants!”

Simon Rodriguez, Bolivar’s tutor, who was with him on Monte Sacro, later recorded that, at the time, he thought his pupil was just playacting. In the years immediately after the French Revolution of 1789, many imaginative, fiery young men like Bolivar caught “freedom-fever”. They fancied that “liberty, equality, fraternity”, the slogan of the Revolution, was the cure for all the ills of civilisation. Usually, Rodriguez remembered, they recovered quite quickly and if, like Simon Bolivar, they were wealthy, aristocratic young men, they usually settled for the comfortable, carefree life to which they had been born.

However, when Rodriguez wrote that, in the late 1840s, he had had plenty of time to realise how utterly wrong his first judgement had been. For not only was Bolivar perfectly sincere when he made his vow, but at the age of 22, he already possessed the ruthless ambition and driving determination to make it come true. These qualities, all combined in one dedicated patriot spelled the death of an empire and the birth of several South American nations.

By 1805, South America had suffered the brutal burden of Spanish rule for over three centuries, ever since the conquistadores had come there in the wake of Christopher Columbus to exploit its enormous wealth in gold and silver and make slaves of its Indian inhabitants. When Simon Bolivar was born in Caracas, Venezuela, in 1783, Spain’s grip was still powerful and there seemed little hope that it would ever weaken. Then, at last, in 1808, that grip momentarily relaxed when disaster struck Spain itself: in that year, Napoleon invaded Spain and across the Atlantic, South Americans rushed to exploit the plight of their masters and claim their liberty.

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James Stuart, Earl of Murray may have murdered Lord Darnley

Posted in Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Scotland on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about Lord Darnley originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

Lord Darnley, picture, image, illustration

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley by Sir James Linton

On a cold February night in 1567, Mary Queen of Scots bade farewell to her husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, lying ill with smallpox in a little house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. As she prepared to mount her horse in the thick snow outside, a servant, nicknamed Paris, appeared at the front door, his face black with dirt.

“Jesu, Paris,” Mary exclaimed, “how begrimed you are!” Then without waiting for an answer, she turned to her attendants and gave the signal to set off down the street towards the other end of the city where they were to attend a wedding party.

Three hours later, the still of the night was shattered by a violent explosion. The little house, called Kirk O’Field, in which Mary had left her sick husband, had been blown to pieces by gunpowder. In the garden lay the bodies of Lord Darnley and his servant, Taylor.

Quickly a crowd gathered round the two bodies, and at once they noticed something curious about them. Neither showed the slightest trace of gunpowder or any injuries arising from its detonation. Both men had been suffocated.

In a muddy field nearby a slipper was found. It belonged to Archibald Douglas, Darnley’s cousin.

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Tight-rope walkers need a good pair of ears

Posted in Biology on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about human biology originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

Japanese tightrope artist, picture, image, illustration

A Barnum and Bailey tight-rope artiste

Being able to keep upright is called “balance” or, as scientists say, “maintaining equilibrium.” We can do this because nature has provided us with two built-in “spirit levels.”

The ordinary spirit level consists of a glass tube containing a liquid. The tube is not quite full, so that a bubble of air floats in it.

When the spirit level lies flat, the air bubble is in the centre of the tube. Tip the tube to the right, the bubble moves to the left; tip it to the left, the bubble moves to the right.

But once the tube has been tipped, it must be moved by someone before the bubble is level.

The “spirit levels” in our ears do much better than that. If we tip backwards or forwards or to the right or left, they automatically bring us level again.

Each “spirit level” consists of three semicircular canals, containing a fluid, and an hour-glass shaped organ. The upper part of the “hour-glass” is called the utriculus and the lower part is the sacculus.

The fluid in the canals tends to stay still, but if we move our head it moves and bumps against nerves at the end of each canal. This causes a nerve message to be sent to the brain, telling us how much and in what direction our head has moved.

Inside the utriculus and sacculus are tiny pendulums of crystal suspended from very fine hairs.

If our body gets into a position from which we are in danger of losing our balance and so toppling over, the pendulums swing with it and bump against nerves. These instantly send a message to the brain warning of the danger.

The brain then causes return messages to be sent to the nerves and muscles controlling the movements to restore our balance. In this way the combined actions of the pendulums and of the fluid in the canals enable us to keep our balance.

If you keep twisting your body round and round you will feel giddy and lose your sense of balance. This is because you have churned up the fluid in the canals and put your “spirit levels” out of action.

Temple Newsam, a Tudor-Jacobean house, was home to many plots

Posted in Architecture, Country House, Historical articles, History on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about Temple Newsam originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

Temple Newsam, picture, image, illustration

Temple Newsam

Temple Newsam is so called because originally it was a preceptory or community of the Knights Templar. Lord Darnley who afterwards became the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, was born here in 1545.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, its walls held many grim secrets. It was one of the chief meeting places for people connected with plotting against Elizabeth I and her nobles. Many famous and infamous English and Scottish names were to be met with in those days at Temple Newsam.

The manor house was later acquired by Sir Arthur Ingram, whose descendants became Viscount Irwin. It is a splendid example of an English country mansion and it has its own superb style.

Many Jacobean buildings were very ornate and tasteless in design, but the simple dignity of Temple Newsam represents the best possible taste of the early years of Charles I.

The hall is now the City of Leeds’s principal Art Gallery. It contains some superb furniture, silver, ceramics and a fine collection of pictures.

Karate is the most ancient and deadly art of self-defence

Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Sport on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about karate originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

You can spend months perfecting a Karate blow for a specially important competition and still be disqualified if you land it!

A waste of time? Not at all, for much of the Karate expert’s skill is far too deadly to use “for real”, and it is quite sufficient for him to show that he is familiar with a particular attack without actually following it through.

Karate is a Martial Art in which almost anything goes, but only when fighting for one’s life against an enemy. In the dojo or training centre it is considered an act of almost unforgivable incompetence if one injures an opponent, and one that brings immediate disgrace.

Karate is probably the oldest of the Martial Arts, and is traceable through ancient Chinese writing of 3000 years ago, although this does not mean that all Karate is necessarily Chinese. The word itself is Japanese and means “the empty hand”, a term that covers a number of techniques of fighting with only one’s natural weapons. There are Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Okinawan forms of this particularly deadly art of self defence. Of all of them, the best known is probably Okinawan, modified and improved by the Japanese.

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Amelia Bloomer wins the Victorian crinoline wars

Posted in America, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Leisure on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about Amelia Bloomer originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975

Cycling in bloomers, picture, image, illustration

Cycling in bloomers was a huge step towards the emancipation of Victorian women, by Peter Jackson

Amelia Bloomer’s ideas of women’s wear were greeted with derision. But she was a dauntless pioneer who was determined that women were going to look fetching in bloomers.

This is a tale of women’s lib and male chauvinist pigs, Victorian style, and they have never come piggier than in Victorian times. It is also the story of a scorned but dauntless pioneer, whose ideas were greeted with derision. She rejoiced in the name of Amelia Bloomer.

The 1850s and ’60s saw women encased in crinolines. They were introduced in 1856 because the weight of petticoats worn by ladies of the day was becoming enough to make all but the toughest swoon. The “cage crinoline” or hooped petticoat gave them a huge steel cage in which they could move. Liberation had come.

But high winds exposed their legs, sorry, limbs: legs were not fit subjects for conversation at the time. So pantaloons were worn, long enough to conceal the limbs.

The trouble was that crinolines, which today look beautiful to us, became so wide that it was out of the question for two ladies to pass through a door at the same moment. As for sitting together on a sofa, it was impossible. Not until the 1870s did the fashion disappear after a long reign.

Meanwhile, even before crinolines became outsize, an American reformer, Mrs. Bloomer, had tried to liberate women weighed down by all those petticoats. In 1850 or so, long before be-crinolined ladies were practically taking off in a high wind, she designed a simple skirt which fell below the knees, and underneath which were baggy trousers that ended in frilly lace. A pretty woman with a good figure, like our Amelia, looked very fetching in her bloomers.

It must be admitted that larger ladies would not have looked so good, but that was not the point at issue. Victorian manhood was outraged at women wearing the trousers, and women meekly obeyed them, treating Mrs. Bloomer with the outraged contempt their menfolk considered she deserved. She fought on during the crinoline age, but was routed.

She had the last laugh though, for she lived until the 1890s when bloomers became the fashion for lady cyclists. Cycling plus bloomers was real liberation.

“Saratoga Chips” became the world’s most popular snack – potato crisps

Posted in America, Historical articles, History on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about George Crum originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

George Crum, picture, image, illustration

The chef, George Crum, presents the difficult diner with his novel creation

We cannot, alas, sing the praises of the man or woman who first joined bacon to eggs or the unknown genius who married lamb to mint sauce. We can reveal, however, the name of the inventor of the potato crisp, confident in the knowledge that at least 90 per cent of “Look and Learn” readers will be pleased to know it and think kindly of the man the next time they nibble a crisp.

His name was Crum.

Actually, he invented the potato chip, for it happened in America, where crisps are confusingly known as chips. Those intending to visit the States will naturally wish to know how to ask for what the British call chips. They should banish all thoughts of the Mother Country and say with conviction: “French fried, please.”

But back to Crum. He was a Red Indian, an unlikely story for a start, but true, for this particular Red Man was the chef of a smart eating establishment at Saratoga Springs, New York State, called the Moon Lake Lodge.

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England’s greatest Baroque composer was a German

Posted in Historical articles, History, London, Music, Royalty, Theatre on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

Young Handel, picture, image, illustration

The young Handel is discovered in the attic playing the harpsichord by his father. Picture by Peter Jackson

Known to millions as the composer of the Hallelujah Chorus and the great oratorio, the Messiah, from which it comes, George Frederic Handel was British by choice, not by birth. Yet his music is part of the British heritage, and he lies buried in Westminster Abbey. What do we know about the little boy from Germany who achieved these things?

Many boys and girls dislike having to practise a musical instrument, even if they have a natural gift for playing it. Parents and teachers have to coax and push them along. With young Handel, however, it was just the opposite. From the time that he could sit on a stool, he loved to get close to a keyboard, and to pick out notes and make up little tunes. And from his earliest years he longed to become a real musician, begging his parents to let him have proper lessons on the harpsichord.

But his father had quite different ideas. A prosperous doctor in the north German town of Halle, he did not intend to let his youngest son lead the irregular and poorly paid life of a musician of those times. No, the boy was to be trained for one of the professions which his father thought respectable, such as that of a lawyer, or perhaps a doctor like himself.

So the small harpsichord in the home of the Handel family was banished to the attic, where George Frederic would not be tempted to waste his time on it. One night, however, his parents were awakened by the sound of soft music stealing down the stairs, long after they had gone to bed. Taking a candle, they went to investigate, and to their amazement found their young son, who was not more than six at the time, seated in his nightshirt in the chilly attic, playing away on the old harpsichord with a skill which was entirely self-taught, and which they had no idea he possessed.

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The unique literary heritage of England’s Lake District

Posted in America, British Cities, British Countryside, British Towns, English Literature, Geography, Historical articles, History on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about Cumbria originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

Wordsworth, picture, image, illustration

William Wordsworth at Dove Cottage by Harry Green

John Paul Jones, his cocked hat set firmly on his head, his sword swinging at his waist, ran up the companion way of his ship, “Ranger”, as it swept smoothly before the breeze into a quiet English harbour.

A number of British vessels were at anchor and Jones could just see them in the moonlight.

He rapped a sharp order to the gunners to prime their cannons and take aim. Suddenly, there was a succession of loud reports, and red flashes illuminated the ships gently straining at their anchors.

“Fire,” shouted Jones again. And once more the cannons boomed, their projectiles striking their targets squarely. Suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown, the ships burst into flames one by one, and the red glow lit up the guns of the shore battery.

At a command from Jones, the gunners switched their aim to the shore cannons and soon put them out of action.

By now, the whole town was aroused, and ships which had not been hit in the earlier attack began putting to sea. Realising that he was about to be very speedily outnumbered, Jones turned and ran – and peace once again returned to the quiet harbour.

Jones was an American privateer who created havoc around the coast of Britain during the American War of Independence. And this attack in 1778 was upon Whitehaven, a town upon the coast of Cumbria, a county created in April last year.

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The genial genius of Gioacchino Rossini, composer of ‘William Tell’

Posted in Historical articles, History, Music, Theatre on Friday, 27 April 2012

This edited article about Rossini originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 696 published on 17 May 1975.

Scene from William Tell, picture, image, illustration

Act III, scene iii of Rossini’s opera, William Tell

Gioacchino Antonio Rossini, the great Italian operatic composer, was born on February 29th, 1792 at Pesaro on the Adriatic where his father was the town trumpeter.

Brought up in an atmosphere of music and the theatre, the young Rossini soon showed signs of his musical talents. His father played the horn in the theatre orchestras and his mother was an opera singer.

He studied music at the Conservatoire in Bologna and learned a great deal from the works of Haydn and Mozart.

At the astonishingly early age of 14, Rossini wrote his first opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio. By the time he was twenty, he was writing four comic operas a year and at once became a most popular composer.

In 1816, came his most famous and best-loved opera, The Barber of Seville although when it was first performed, it was considered a failure.

His other operas which are often performed today, include The Italian Girl in Algiers, Otello, Cinderella and, of course, the famous opera which was produced in 1829, William Tell.

After the success of William Tell, Rossini was to live for another forty years, but wrote no more operas. After visiting England in 1823, he later settled in Paris where he lived most of the time until his death in 1868.

Rossini’s music is light and gay and the composer had a great gift for flowing melody while his work is highly characteristic of the Italian tradition. He was a great lover of the orchestral crescendo and was noted in his day for his ‘noisy effects’. However, his great musical gifts and theatrical flair have ensured his lasting success and his best music, like that which can be heard in The Barber of Seville has an unfailing, immortal charm.