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Archive for November, 2012

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Madame Adelina Patti was a great Victorian diva

Posted in Actors, Historical articles, History, Music, Theatre on Monday, 26 November 2012

This edited article about Adelina Patti originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 788 published on 19th February 1977.

Adelina Patti, picture, image, illustration

Adelina Patti by Modesto Faustini

There was thunderous applause as the old lady walked on to the stage at the charity concert.

She smiled as she looked down at the audience – many of whom were on their feet with enthusiasm – and made a slight sign to the leader of the orchestra.

Music swelled throughout the theatre and the woman burst into song. At the age of 71 Adelina Patti was making her final appearance.

She was born in Madrid on 19th February 1843. Right from the start her Italian parents realised that she was destined to be a great singer.

Her father paid for her music lessons, impatient for the day when he would see his Adelina walk on to the stage as an opera performer. That day came in 1859 when she made her debut as Lucia in the opera “Lucia di Lammermoor”.

Overnight she became famous, Critics raved about her clear soprano voice. Her “fans” queued for hours to hear her. Many people have to wait for years to get their “break” on the stage: with Adelina Patti her success was instantaneous, thanks to the wonderful quality of her voice.

In 1861 she came to London where once again her success was repeated.

After a wonderful career she planned to retire in 1895, marking the occasion with a farewell concert in London. But she was not allowed to remain in retirement.

In 1914 Madame Patti returned to the theatre for the last time in aid of charity. She died five years later on 27th September.

Timur the Lame, or Tamburlaine, almost conquered the known world

Posted in Historical articles, History, Invasions, War on Monday, 26 November 2012

This edited article about Timur the Lame originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 788 published on 19th February 1977.

Tamburlaine torches a city, picture, image, illustration

Tamburlaine, more properly known as Timur the Lame, putting a city to the torch by Gerry Embleton

A fur-clad warrior rushed from the great tent of the Tartar leader. With tears streaming down his cruel, leathery face, he cried: “Timur is dead!”

Immediately, his cry was taken up so that it echoed across the vast military camp. Men looked at each other helplessly. They stopped whatever they were doing and began to mourn unashamedly. They knew no one could lead them like their dead master. And, when the funeral was finally over, the army of Tartars broke up into little groups of men riding sadly back to their villages.

Thus ended a dream of conquest which would have altered the history of the world.

Timur i leng (meaning “Timur the Lame”) was born in 1336 at the town of Kesh, known as the Green City, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Samarkand.

His father was chieftain of the wild Berlas tribe of Tartars and, when Timur eventually took his place as leader, his first objective was to gain independence for his people. Like many of the Tartar tribes, they were ruled by an overlord – Tughlak.

Timur led his people into revolt and, after much fighting, he drove out Tughlak and his followers in 1365. But Timur did not stop at that. Having learned to love the taste of power, he saw to it that he became the most powerful chieftain of the Tartars. Soon the other chieftains were paying him homage as once he had paid homage to Tughlak.

In 1369 Timur was enthroned at Samarkand as the sole ruler of Turkestan. For the next 36 years he devoted himself to war and conquest. His name became feared equally in India and Egypt.

He led his dashing columns of horsemen to the Caspian Sea, where he routed the Golden Horde which had once been the terror of Europe. He swept over the Urals and along the Volga; he besieged Baghdad; he defeated the Egyptians and the Turks, capturing Damascus and Aleppo. In 1398 he went east and invaded India, where he sacked Delhi.

Being a Moslem, he was grateful to Allah for his victories and he brought back from India 90 elephants loaded with rare marble to build a mosque in Samarkand.

It seemed as though no army in the world could stand up against the Tartars of Timur. Yet once he had defeated a country and pillaged it, he moved on restlessly, unable to establish an empire, as the Roman generals had done.

In 1405 he planned what was to be the greatest conquest of his terrible career – he was going to invade China.

Messengers rode out on their wiry ponies to summon the Tartars to a meeting point at Otrar. A huge, invincible army began to form. But in the midst of his preparations finally to make himself master of Asia, Timur the Lame caught fever, and on 17th February he died.

Without his leadership the Tartars were no longer a great army of cavalry, but bands of undisciplined horsemen. There was no one to take his place, the force that was to change history dwindled, and China was left in peace.

Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan and the National Health Service

Posted in Historical articles, History, Institutions, Medicine, Politics on Monday, 26 November 2012

This edited article about Aneurin Bevan originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 788 published on 19th February 1977.

NHS children's ward, picture, image, illustration

A typical children’s ward in a NHS hospital

In the cold darkness of a winter’s morning, a sturdy, round-faced boy of thirteen left his small terraced house in Tredegar, Monmouthshire, and hurried alongside his swift-striding father to catch the 5.30 a.m. colliers’ train that would take them to work in one of the many coal-mines scattered throughout the valleys of South Wales.

The boy’s name was Aneurin Bevan, and for a week’s work in the damp darkness of the pit, he would bring home his modest wages and give them to his mother, for, like hundreds of other Welsh mining families, the Bevans needed every shilling, indeed every penny, that any member of the family could earn.

On Saturday, Mrs. Phoebe Bevan would give young “Nye”, as he was called, his pocket money – twopence to buy chocolate, twopence for a piece of cake, and twopence to purchase his two favourite comics, Gem and Magnet.

The year was 1911, and life was hard not only for the miners of Wales, but for many other working people in Britain too. And like many other workers at that time, Aneurin felt that a great deal was wrong with their conditions and the low wages they were paid. Unlike most of his contemporaries, however, Aneurin Bevan determined that he would one day do something to improve their lot.

On his journey to the Ty-tryst colliery every day he noticed that he and his mates stood at a different end of the platform from the other passengers, and sat in separate carriages.

“That’s because you’re a dirty miner, boy!” his comrades would joke. “Can’t have you making their clothes dirty, can you now?”

Aneurin failed to see anything funny in this class difference. He did not laugh with his fellow miners at their cheerful acceptance of this situation, but sat quietly brooding.

Twenty years later, when the fiery Welshman had fought his way into parliament, he wrote this about the life of a miner:

“In other trades there are a thousand diversions to break the monotony of work – the passing traffic, the morning newspaper, above all, the sky, the sunshine, the wind and the rain. The miner has none of these.

“Every day for eight hours he dies, gives up a slice of his life, literally drops out of life and buries himself . . . Called from his bed at half past four, he makes his way to the pithead. The streets are full of shadows with white faces and black-rimmed sunken eyes. The cold morning echoes with the ring of hobnailed boots . . . The shadows have such heavy feet.”

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Karl Bodmer painted American Indians in battle

Posted in America, Art, Artist, Historical articles, History on Friday, 23 November 2012

This edited article about Karl Bodmer originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 787 published on 12th February 1977.

Camp des gros ventres, picture, image, illustration

Camp des Gros Ventres des prairies. Print shows a large Hidatsa Indians camp in the background; a group of Indians in the foreground are dancing on the shore while others are in the water boarding and attacking passengers on a ship. Print after a painting by Karl Bodmer

Fort McKenzie, Territory of the Far West, 28 August, 1833

“The Indians are attacking the fort!” All through the trading post the cry was taken up, sometimes in French, sometimes in English, but always with a note of terror in the voice. All knew only too well the horrors of Indian warfare.

Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied, a middle-aged German prince stopping off at Fort McKenzie on a scientific trip through the Indian country, was far more excited than terrified. At last he was going to see the native savages in action. He had fought many a battle against Napoleon, now he was to fight Red Indians. Eagerly he charged his flintlock rifle with gunpowder and aimed it through a porthole in one of the corner blockhouses and fired at the wildly-yelling Indians outside the fort. There was a deafening report and the little German prince felt himself hurled bodily backwards to smash up against the rear wall of the blockhouse and roll over on to the floor. He had forgotten he had charged his rifle the night before and the additional charge had caused it to kick back like a bad-tempered mule!

Meanwhile the Prince’s young colleague, Karl Bodmer, who had been brought along to make pictorial records of the royal scientific trip West, was busily sketching the fierce fighting from the fort’s wooden stockade.

It soon transpired that the Indians were not attacking the fort at all. The Indians were fighting each other.

A tribe of Blackfeet – upwards of 150 – had set up their lodges just outside the fort the previous evening with the purpose of trading. Some 600 Assiniboin Indians had caught the Blackfeet sleeping and had attacked. Karl Bodmer from his vantage point on the stockade could see that their tepees had been cut to pieces and that the Blackfeet, in complete panic, were falling over themselves to get inside the fort to safety.

The trappers had opened the gates to let them in and now the opening was practically jammed full. A fur trader trying to pull one Blackfoot brave in was grabbed and pulled aside by one furious Assiniboin who yelled at him, “Out of my way, I’m after Blackfeet!” The attacking warriors were trying to make it clear that they had no argument with the white men.

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Paddington Railway Station – gateway to the West Country

Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Transport, Travel on Friday, 23 November 2012

This edited article about Paddington railway station originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 787 published on 12th February 1977.

Night Mail train at Paddington, picture, image, illustration

The arrival of the Night Mail at Paddington c 1895

The old Great Western Railway had magic, much of which survives to this day, though now it has become the Western Region of British Rail. True, it never had quite so much glamour as the routes to Scotland and back, but from the beginning it had magnificent style, as befitted a railway serving Bath and the West Country. And it also had solid power to partner the industrial areas of Bristol and South Wales.

There were two special reasons for this railway grandeur – the line itself, master minded by the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Paddington Station, the chief subject of this feature.

Few would deny that Paddington epitomised the Great Western Railway, for it was conceived to be grand and dignified. The G.W.R. was the only company to survive the 1921 mergers of companies, and even after nationalisation in 1948, its identity seemed to survive.

At first it was planned to site the Great Western’s station at Euston Square, sharing it with the London and Birmingham Railway, but the G.W.R.’s brilliant young engineer, Brunel (1806-59), fought against it.

First, he hated the idea of sharing with another company, and secondly he wanted to build a railway on the grand scale, with a gauge of 7 feet and a quarter inch as opposed to other railways 4 ft 8 and a half in. (These measurements are part of railway history and therefore are not being metricated.)

Eventually the plan to build at Euston Station fell through and it was with considerable relief that Brunel learnt that he could plan an independent route into the capital. A temporary station was built. The selected site was in Paddington, north of Bishop’s Bridge Road and alongside the Grand Union Canal, coming in from Kensal Green through the western approach to London.

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The F.B.I. encouraged the development of forensic science

Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Law on Friday, 23 November 2012

This edited article about the F.B.I. originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 787 published on 12th February 1977.

gangsters getaway car, picture, image, illustration

Law officers pursue gangsters in a getaway car by Peter Jackson

Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Electronics . . . these are the F.B.I.s main weapons against lawbreakers. In the majority of cases the microscope more than the pistol has brought about the downfall of the criminal, and the F.B.I. is proud of its complex of up-to-date laboratories. Every year thousands of pieces of evidence are examined by F.B.I. scientists from bullets and gun barrels to bits of bone, cloth fibres, hair, bloodstains and other items.

The findings of these facilities are free to all other law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S., together with the advice the agents give to banks, stores and manufacturing companies on their security problems. In recent years government work involving security risks has increased. F.B.I’s Files and Communications Division has been called upon to check the backgrounds of thousands of job applicants, where total dedication and loyalty are major requirements.

By far the most busy offices in the Bureau belong to the Identification Division, housing the fingerprint files. Over 20,000 new sets are processed here every day and the world’s largest collection helps solve more crimes than any of the amenities available to the agents. No two sets of prints are the same. Made up of arches, loops and whorls, a fingerprint is classified according to one of eight basic patterns which cannot be permanently obliterated or removed by the owner. The gangster, John Dillinger, tried to have his prints removed by a surgeon, but the tell-tale impression grew again with the healing skin. Fingerprints don’t just solve crimes either. But they may help to identify people, perhaps injured beyond recognition in disasters, or people suffering from amnesia. All men entering the U.S. Forces, or people seeking government employment, are fingerprinted, and many U.S. citizens give theirs voluntarily for the F.B.I. files. If on file, it takes just four minutes for the Bureau to find a set of prints and identify them, so competent is the system.

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Seals are loveable landlubbers but seaborn killers

Posted in Animals, Nature, Sea, Wildlife on Friday, 23 November 2012

This edited article about the seal family originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 787 published on 12th February 1977.

Seals, picture, image, illustration

Seals by John Rignall

The sea was the home of the earliest forms of animal life; and from it emerged the creatures which eventually adapted themselves by evolution to a life on shore. Among these are the most advanced class of animals – the mammals.

For some reason, certain mammals later needed to return to the sea. Some have adapted themselves completely to life in the water. But the seal family, or pinnipedia, still need to return ashore, or to some convenient ice-floe, at least long enough to mate and produce their young.

There is a mystery about the ancestry of the pinnipedia (the word means “fin-footed”). It is thought they evolved from the same line of land mammals as dogs and bears. But fossil remains give no clue. The earliest, dating from about 20 million years ago, suggest that they were much the same then as now.

The term “seal” only loosely applies to all these animals. There are many species of true seals, from the common seal found round Britain, to the grotesque elephant seal, a giant which grows to a length of more than 20 feet (6 m) and weighs four tons. But the pinnipedia also include the sea lions and fur seals, which differ from true seals. There is also the walrus, recognisable by its tusks, and regarded as a distinct group among the pinnipedia.

All pinnipedia have characteristics in common. They are carnivores, or flesh-eaters. Most feed on fish, crustacea and other marine creatures – though the Antarctic leopard seal also preys on penguins, and even on young seals. The so-called crab-eater seal, another Antarctic species, feeds only on tiny shellfish, which it strains from the seawater through specially shaped teeth.

The other principal similarity between the groups is that, while they are built for swift, agile movement in the water, they are ill-equipped for moving on land. There is great variety among the species within each group of pinnipedia. But there are clear differences distinguishing the three groups. A true seal has no ear-flaps, its ears being practically invisible. Yet it is believed to have good hearing, and to be able to pick up sounds and vibrations from its prey when hunting beneath the water.

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Antony van Leeuwenhoek and the invention of the microscope

Posted in Historical articles, History, Inventions, Medicine, Science on Friday, 23 November 2012

This edited article about Antony Leeuwenhoek originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 787 published on 12th February 1977.

microscope, picture, image, illustration

A Victorian microscope

So small that they need to be enlarged many thousands of times in order that they may be seen by the human eye, microbes – viruses and bacteria – are a fundamental cause of disease.

The ability of doctors and scientists to fight disease began with the discovery of the microbe, and the manufacture of the microscope. The fight has been led by men who used a microscope the way Sherlock Holmes used his magnifying glass. The first of these detectives, the man who did so much to develop the microscope, was a 17th Century Dutchman called Antony Leeuwenhoek . . .

Europe in the 17th Century was no place for the enquiring scientific mind. The dark cloak of superstition, ignorance and prejudice, cast a shadow over the spirit of man.

So when a middle-aged Dutchman with an obsession for looking through carefully-ground and polished glass lenses discovered an entire new world – a world peopled with creatures so tiny that even their discoverer could scarcely credit what he saw – there was no immediate uproar.

On the contrary, although the Dutchman, Antony van Leeuwenhoek, had not only revealed the microbe for the first time but in doing so had also improved the microscope itself, the news provoked only slight amusement in the world at large.

The fact was that Leeuwenhoek was an extraordinary man. He was born in Delft in 1632 into a family of brewers and basket-makers. He left school at 16 and worked for a time as apprentice in a draper’s shop in Amsterdam.

By the time he was 21 he was back in Delft, where he started his own drapery business. But he spent more and more time in the company of the spectacle-makers, and it seemed to Leeuwenhoek that the lenses they produced were very crude.

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Sir Rowland Hill invented the postage stamp

Posted in Communications, Historical articles, History, Institutions, Inventions, Royalty on Friday, 23 November 2012

This edited article about Rowland Hill originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 787 published on 12th February 1977.

Early postal service, picture, image, illustration

In the early days of postal services the recipient paid the postman for the letter by Peter Jackson

If you collect postage stamps your pastime is the world’s most popular collecting hobby – one which brings rewards to millions of people in learning and in money.

Kings and commoners have collected stamps. Philately – to give stamp collecting its scientific title – is big business, conducted by stamp dealers, stamp shops and stamp auctions all over the world.

The introduction of postage stamps and the complete reform of our postal system into a streamlined organization were centred around an Englishman named Sir Rowland Hill (1795-1879).

Hill had in mind a uniform penny postage system throughout the whole of Britain.

Before Hill’s time the recipient of the letter, not the sender, paid for its delivery, in cash. This meant that the postman had to stop at each house and wait for the money to be fetched.

But often the recipient just didn’t have the money. If he were a poor labourer he could ill afford to pay for a letter which might easily turn out to be unimportant.

On the other hand, though, the letter might be important. It could contain news of a lost son, or a relative at some distant war.

Imagine the poor labourer’s dilemma when he saw a letter addressed to him. Should he pay, or should he not? No wonder that in many parts of our country a knock on the door from the postman came to be dreaded.

And remember that when the postman called, he did not always ask for pennies. The charge for delivery – based on all sorts of complicated calculations, like the number of sheets in the letter and the distance it had travelled – occasionally stretched to several shillings, several pounds by today’s reckoning.

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The Rape of Europa

Posted in Ancient History, Myth, Religion on Friday, 23 November 2012

This edited article about Greek mythology originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 787 published on 12th February 1977.

Europa and Bull, picture, i,age, illustration

The rape of Europa

High on Mount Olympus, in the middle of Greece, Zeus reigned as king of the gods. He was a big, stubborn, quick-tempered fellow, with a curly beard and long hair.

When Zeus was in a temper he would throw one of his terrible thunderbolts and the whole earth would shake with its violence.

The ancient Greeks worshipped Zeus widely and built many temples in his honour. One such temple was at Olympia and there, every five years, the Greeks gathered to celebrate their Olympic Games in honour of the great god.

Like some of the other gods, Zeus was prone to a woman’s charms, but the Greeks did not seem to mind. It never worried them that in their stories, one god might end up with two or three wives.

Nevertheless, the gods did not make a parade of their romances. And when Zeus decided to woo a young maid called Europa, he turned himself into a bull.

Europa, who was a princess, was playing in a meadow when the bull arrived. She was astonished at its gentleness – even more astonished when she found that the great beast allowed her to climb upon its back.

But no sooner had she done this than the bull set off across the field pell-mell. It galloped across fields and valleys until it came to the sea. There it jumped straight into the water and swam just as fast as it had galloped.

To Europa, clinging for dear life to its back, the bull now revealed itself as the great Zeus.

Again Europa was amazed, and doubtless a little flattered by the supreme god’s attention. Zeus, talking to her all the time, swam on, and they did not stop until they came to a new and unknown land. Here Zeus deposited his new love.

And, said the Greeks, he decided to call the new land Europe – after Europa.

Meanwhile Europa’s three brothers had discovered that she was missing and set out to look for her. Eventually two of them gave up the search, leaving the eldest. Cadmus, to carry on alone.

Cadmus never found his sister, of course, but Zeus was impressed by his faithfulness towards her and gave him a beautiful bride as a sort of consolation prize.

At the place where he finally gave up the search Cadmus decided to found a new city, to be called Thebes. First, though, he was obliged to kill a dragon that inhabited the area.

No sooner had he cut off the beast’s head than a voice, which he took to come from the gods, ordered him to remove the dragon’s teeth and plant them in the ground.

Cadmus hastened to obey – and no sooner had he done so than the teeth grew into terrifying giants, who prepared to set upon and devour him.

Cadmus was about to consider himself finished when the same voice bade him cast a stone among the giants. They, thinking that one of their own number had thrown the stone, then set upon each other. The result was that in a moment or two there were only five of them left alive.

These five Cadmus quickly brought to order and, with their help, built the famous Greek city of Thebes.