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Archive for December, 2012

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In the Third China War Lord Elgin threatened to take Peking

Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Saturday, 15 December 2012

This edited article about China originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 798 published on 30th April 1977.

Arthur Fitzgibbon VC

Arthur Fitzgibbon was the youngest of six British soldiers awarded the VC in the attack on the Chinese Taku forts on the Peiho

Early one October morning in the year 1856, two boatloads of uniformed Chinese boarded a small craft lying at anchor off the waterfront at the great south China port of Canton. They took the crew prisoner, and hauled down the vessel’s ensign.

Arresting the crew didn’t matter all that much. They were Chinese.

The ensign was British.

The vessel was the 100-ton Arrow, one of a number of small ships trading regularly between Canton and the ports of Hong Kong and Macao which lay 100 miles or so distant, at the mouth of the Canton river.

On this occasion the Arrow had come up from Macao with rice – a perfectly legitimate cargo, which many of those carried on the river were not. Her captain, a young Irishman named Tom Kennedy, was not on board at the time of the arrests. He protested, but in vain, the Chinese maintaining that his crew were wanted for piracy.

Kennedy took the only course open to him, which was to complain to the British consul at Canton. The consul passed on the complaint to the Chinese authorities, but got no satisfaction.

Once more the dislike of the British and the Chinese for each other flared up into acts of treachery and aggression. A week after the Arrow incident, and in retaliation for it, a British gunboat seized a Chinese junk, only to find that it didn’t belong, as had been thought, to the Chinese government. More annoyed than ever, the Royal Navy then captured and dismantled four Chinese forts on the river five miles below Canton, and H.M.S. Encounter shelled Canton’s city wall. Two days later the British entered the city, but not in sufficient force to maintain themselves there.

There followed some months of hit-and-run warfare, with the two sides becoming more and more bitterly opposed to each other all the time.

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Madame Tussaud’s famous waxwork museum

Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Oddities, Revolution, Sinners on Saturday, 15 December 2012

This edited article about Madame Tussaud originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 798 published on 30th April 1977.

Madame Tussaud, picture, image, illustration

Madame Tussaud

On 26th April, 1928, crowds of people flocked to Marylebone Road, London, for the opening of a huge waxworks museum. Once past the door, they marvelled at the lifelike models of statesmen and popular actors; the Sleeping Beauty, who actually seemed to breathe in her enchanted sleep; and members of royalty who gazed back at the spectators from only a few feet away.

The founder of the waxworks died in 1850, but her work lived on, and today ‘Madame Tussaud’s’ is the most famous waxwork museum in the world.

Marie Tussaud was born in Berne, Switzerland, in 1760. When she grew up, she went to Paris to help her uncle, J. C. Curtius, a well-known wax modeller. In Curtius’s ‘Wax Cabinet’ at the Palais Royal, Marie learned the arts of moulding and tinting wax images so that they appeared almost lifelike. The sculptor realised that his niece had even more skill than he. Her works became the sensation of Paris.

When the French Revolution broke out in 1789, the revolutionaries forced Marie and her uncle to undertake the heartbreaking work of modelling the heads of the victims of the guillotine. Many of these unfortunate aristocrats had visited their displays.

In 1802, Marie Tussaud came to London where she opened her first waxworks at the Lyceum. As well as her famous models, she had managed to obtain historical relics of great interest, such as Henry IV’s shirt and Napoleon’s carriage.

In 1884, the waxworks moved to Marylebone Road, but much of the priceless collection was destroyed by fire in 1925. Three years later the exhibition was re-opened, and has been one of the great attractions of London ever since.

The Golden Book of Marcus Aurelius was written in the Colisseum

Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Literature on Saturday, 15 December 2012

This edited article about Marcus Aurelius originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 798 published on 30th April 1977.

Column of Marcus Aurelius, picture, image, illustration

The Column of Marcus Aurelius in the Piazza Colonna, Rome, by Alberto Pisa

Many of the Emperors of Ancient Rome are remembered for their cruelty and selfish ambition; not so Marcus Aurelius. He earned his place in history because of his gentleness and love of his people; and because of his Meditations, a remarkable book of philosophy, written in odd moments at the gladiatorial games and on the eve of battles.

Marcus was born of noble parents on 26th April A.D. 121. Three months later, his father died and the boy was brought up by his grandfather, who employed the very best teachers to instruct him.

From these tutors Marcus learned to be a Stoic. Stoics believed that good behaviour was the greatest virtue, and that a person should be equally unmoved by pleasure or pain. Hard work, a deaf ear to slander of one’s friends, and the ability to stick to a purpose, were key features in the Stoics’ outlook. During his lifetime, Marcus Aurelius never lost sight of these principles.

Marcus was the adopted son of the Emperor Antoninus Pius and, with his foster-brother, Verus, he inherited the position of Emperor of Rome.

He could not have ascended the throne at a worse moment in his country’s history. In Rome, the River Tiber flooded and washed away part of the city. This was followed by a terrible famine, plagues of insects, earthquakes and fires. In Britain, the legions were on the point of revolt, and in the east the Parthians overwhelmed the Roman provinces of Syria and Cappadocia.

Marcus strove to put his empire to rights. Verus went with an army to subdue the Parthians, but when the legions returned to Rome they brought a terrible plague with them. Verus died, and Marcus was left alone with his responsibilities.

It is recorded that he started work early in the morning and never finished until after midnight. Even at the gladiatorial games, which he had to attend as Emperor, he would dictate letters while others were watching the fighting.

Despite the troubles that beset his reign, he was one of the best-loved of all the Roman Emperors.

His greatest victory was in A.D. 174, when the Roman Army was campaigning against rebellious German tribes. Marcus’s soldiers, nearly crazy with thirst, were trapped in a defile. Suddenly, the sky was split by a huge lightning flash, and the rain streamed down – quenching the thirst of the Romans and frightening the tribesmen. The eagle standards of Rome surged forward, and a brilliant victory was snatched from what seemed to be defeat.

The German barbarians made many raids into Roman territory and, in A.D. 180, the gentle Marcus Aurelius, in bad health from over-work, was forced to lead an army against them once again. During the campaign he was stricken with fever and he died on 17th March.

The cinematographer and the art of lying

Posted in Cinema, Historical articles, History on Saturday, 15 December 2012

This edited article about cinema special effects originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 798 published on 30th April 1977.

Film making, picture, image, illustration

The cinematic camera creates illusion

“You rat,” snarled the cowboy. “Nobody cheats me at cards and gets away with it.”

In alarm, the crooked gambler sprang to his feet and edged away from the table.

Next second, a fist like a battering ram thudded against the crook’s jaw. Gracefully, the crook took off and sailed backwards through the window of the Western saloon.

As he struck the window, it shattered with a tremendous crashing of “glass”. The crook continued in flight until he landed on an accurately placed mattress on the other side of the window.

Then he bounced to his feet with the agility of an athlete and brushed the “glass” from his clothes.

“Was that okay?” he said to a watching man. “Or shall we try it again?”

“It’s okay,” said the man. “That’ll do.”

A film was in the making, and the part of the crook was being enacted by a stunt man, a specially trained person who performs daring feats for films.

However, the feat was not as dangerous as it appeared, for the “glass” in the window was actually made of a resin which is very brittle and shatters on impact without hurting the stunt man.

This is one of the effects created for films which belies the old saying that the camera cannot lie. For the camera can be made to show things which are apparently impossible.

For instance, you cannot smash a bottle over a man’s head and expect him to get away without a scratch, unless the bottle is made of resin.

Neither can you expect an actor to rush through a battlefield enveloped in flames just because the author’s script calls for such a dramatic death.

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Deer are among nature’s most beautiful animals

Posted in Animals, Nature, Wildlife on Friday, 14 December 2012

This edited article about deer originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 798 published on 30th April 1977.

Young fallow deer, picture, image, illustration

A young fallow deer

The fallow deer may have been imported into Britain by the Romans, though there is no proof of this. But we do know that there were such deer in Anglo-Saxon England before William the Conqueror arrived.

Fallow deer are said to be running wild in every county in England except Middlesex and in Scotland and Wales as well. Many have escaped from the captivity of deer parks, along with smaller, less well-known species like the Chinese Water deer, the Muntjac and the Sika deer, which featured in our April 9th issue.

Wild fallow deer in Britain are almost exclusively woodland animals, though they will appear on open land to feed on crops. Naturally, this does not make them popular with farmers.

Only male fallow deer have antlers. These start to grow in May, and at first are covered with a sott velvety substance. By September this has frayed away and fallen off, and until the Spring the antlers are hard and bony. Then in April the old antlers fall off, and a few weeks later the whole process starts again.

These deer are highly social animals, but we know very much less about their behaviour when they are in herds than we do about the red deer (pictured to the right of the fallow deer).

Red deer have been studied closely by a number of experts, including Dr. Fraser Darling, who wrote a famous book called A Herd of Red Deer.

Yet it was a small herd of fallow, not red, deer, that was observed not so long ago feeding beside the M1 motorway and heading for Sherwood Forest, doubtless to delight the ghosts of Robin Hood and his merry men. These beautiful animals had escaped from a private estate.

Strangely enough, another species at large in Britain is the reindeer, which is to be found in the Cairngorm Mountains in the Scottish Highlands. The animals were introduced by the Reindeer Council of Great Britain in the hope that they could be herded in the high Scottish mountains in the same way that they are in Lapland.

The roe deer, like the much taller red deer, is a native of Britain, though it also lives in many European countries and parts of Asia. These small creatures – a buck is only half a metre high at the shoulder – do not go about in herds but in ones and twos. They, too, are not very popular with farmers and do considerable damage by gnawing the bark of trees.

And the scientific name for deer? They are all the members of the Cervidae family of the even-toes hoofed mammals.

They are all game animals, their flesh being considered food, while their striking antlers are used in the manufacture of knife handles and other articles.

Only one species has both sexes equipped with antlers – the reindeer. Every sort of deer is a joy to behold, unless one happens to be an irate farmer!

Theseus entered the labyrinth and killed the Minotaur

Posted in Ancient History, Legend, Myth on Friday, 14 December 2012

This edited article about Theseus and the Minotaur originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 798 published on 30th April 1977.

Minoan bull-leapers, picture, image, illustration

Minoan bull-leapers played a dangerous sport which delighted King Minos, by Peter Jackson

Every year, seven young Greek men and seven girls left their city of Athens and never came back. Everybody knew where they went and what happened to them; and everybody knew why they were never seen again.

King Minos of Crete had never made a secret of the fact that they were fed to a hungry monster which he kept in a weird palace of its own.

Year after year, the sacrifices went on, and it seemed that nothing could stop them. Minos, it was obvious, had no intention of removing the harsh punishment he inflicted on the Athenians for killing his son out of jealousy after he had beaten them at the Games.

Furious at his son’s murder, Minos had besieged Athens. He called upon Zeus, the king of the gods, to bring a plague down upon the people. When the Athenians pleaded to have the plague removed. Minos set a harsh condition. The disease would go, he said, if the Athenians would send 14 of the fairest young people to his monster each year.

They agreed, and the stern punishment was carried out annually. The Athenians knew that it would not end until the monster died – or was killed! But who would kill it?

At this time Theseus, who was both the son of the king of Athens and of a god, was being brought up by his mother in another town. When he became a young man, he began a journey to Athens to join his father, the king. On the way, he had adventures with bandits and monsters and it was clear that he was a fighter beyond compare.

But he did not look the bold and fierce fighter he was, for he wore a white robe and his fair hair was carefully arranged. When he reached Athens, a group of workmen building a temple openly laughed at him. Theseus decided to give them a show of his strength. Picking up a heavy ox-cart, he threw it right over the temple they were building. This silenced their jeers.

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Nero remains the supreme monster in Rome’s imperial roll-call

Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History on Friday, 14 December 2012

This edited article about Nero originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 798 published on 30th April 1977.

Nero, picture, image, illustration

Nero had a poor voice but was always applauded when he sang to his own accompaniment on the lyre, by Roger Payne

Soon after Lucius Domitius – later known as Nero, was born, his father Gnaeus, who was one of the most despicable rogues in Rome, held a reception for his friends to receive their congratulations on becoming a father.

As the guests gathered around the crib with suitable cries of admiration. Gnaeus said with calculated cynicism: “Any child born to my wife and me must have a most detestable nature and must grow up to be a public danger.”

There must have been many present who silently agreed with Gnaeus. He had already run over and killed a boy in his chariot while driving along the Appian Way. Another time he had gouged out a man’s eyes in a rage. His wife, the dreaded Agrippina, was to become the chief suspect as the person who poisoned the Emperor Claudius and it is doubtful if Rome ever produced a more evil woman.

As for Nero, he was to grow up to fulfil his father’s prophecy to the letter. The baby who lay in swaddling clothes at his parents’ reception at Antium that December day in A.D. 37 was destined to become one of the greatest monsters in history.

It was the passionate wish of his mother Agrippina that Nero should become Emperor of Rome. After the death of her husband she got herself married to the reigning Emperor, the ageing Claudius, and then set out to prove that her son Nero was a far better candidate for the future Emperor than was Britannicus, the son of Claudius by a former marriage.

It was Nero who got all the tributes. Nero who was constantly shown off to the Roman crowd as the man of the future. Nero who made the speeches and led the parades. By the time that Claudius realised that his son Britannicus was being stripped of his inheritance piece by piece. Agrippina, it is said, disposed of him with a dish of poisoned mushrooms.

When Nero was proclaimed Emperor in succession to his stepfather, he was 17. He still had a problem with Britannicus who, while he was alive, might be regarded by the common people as the young man who should really be Emperor.

Nero had a way of dealing with such problems. He called in Locusta, a famed poisoner, and had her mix a violent poison for his stepbrother. When all that it did was to make Britannicus sick, he flogged her with his own hands, then stood over her while she mixed the fastest-working and most dangerous poison that she knew.

That night at dinner, Nero poured the mixture into Britannicus’s cup. He fell dead on the spot. “Don’t worry,” Nero told the alarmed guests, “My stepbrother is always having these fainting fits.” Then he called the guards to take away “the sick lad.”

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The canals of Panama and Suez are peerless international waterways

Posted in Engineering, Famous landmarks, Geography, Historical articles, History, Ships, Trade, Transport, Travel on Thursday, 13 December 2012

This edited article about canals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 797 published on 23rd April 1977.

Suez Canal, picture, image, illustration

Building the Suez Canal by T S La Fontaine

Tens of thousands of men toiled in the steaming swamps and jungles. As the sun scorched their backs, they shifted ton after ton of earth, using spades, shovels and pickaxes. The unhealthy air was filled with the whine of mosquitoes, while first one man, then another, would collapse, new victims to the deadly diseases of malaria and yellow fever.

Such was Panama at the end of the 19th century when work had started on the building of the great canal – Panama, the unhealthiest area in the world, where 20,000 were to die in the first ten years of hard labour . . .

The Panama Canal, which was finally opened in 1914, is a lock-type ship canal in Central America. It connects the Atlantic with the Pacific, and was built by the U.S.A. (after a false start by a French company) under a treaty with the Republic of Panama.

The canal lies within the Panama Canal Zone, 16 kilometres wide, that bisects the republic, which is now questioning the idea that the United States owns the zone in perpetuity.

The canal is some 80 kilometres long with a minimum depth of about 11and a half metres. The widest point is around 90 metres. And it shortens the voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific by over 11,000 kilometres!

Basically, it consists of sea-level channels at each end, which are separated from and connected to an elevated mid-section 51 kilometres long by three lock systems. It follows a zig-zag course beginning at the Atlantic end in Limon Bay. The Pacific terminus is in the Bay of Panama.

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La Camargo was an C18 prima ballerina who died in poverty

Posted in Dance, Historical articles, Music, Theatre on Thursday, 13 December 2012

This edited article about Marie Ann de Camargo originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 797 published on 23rd April 1977.

La Ballerina by Canova

Canova’s La Ballerina seems to owe something to La Camargo, though she died when he was just a teenager

One of the tragic things of life is how quickly people who have made great names for themselves can be forgotten, even in their own lifetime: such a person was Marie Ann de Cupis de Camargo. After her death on 20th April, 1770, only one admirer – a young man who remembered her from her dancing days – bothered to follow her hearse to the Paris cemetery. Yet a few years earlier her name had been a household word; she was a leader of fashion and the foremost ballet dancer in Europe.

Marie was born on 15th April, 1710, and by the time she was 14 she had made her name as a dancer at Brussels and Rouen in France. Two years later she appeared in Paris and took the city by storm. Everyone was raving about the 16-year-old girl who had transformed the rather stilted ballet of the day into something alive and magical.

Soon she was known for her dress design as well as her dancing. In those days the dresses of ballerinas reached the floor and made anything but the simplest steps very difficult. Marie, wishing to try more adventurous steps, introduced the shortened ballet skirt, much to the indignation of many prudish people who thought it very immodest.

Despite their protests the short ballet skirt remained and the art of dancing took a giant stride forward. Designers copied Marie’s stage costumes and soon she found herself a leader of fashion.

Immediately after the opening of one of Marie’s ballets, dressmakers would work through the night on dresses based on what she wore so that rich customers could show off their latest “Camargo creations” the next day. Marie went from success to success. Altogether she appeared in 70 ballets and operas, and earned herself a great deal of money. But she could not keep it. She loved to live in style and to entertain lavishly. So when she found that she was getting too old to dance she also found that nearly all her fortune had gone. She died a forgotten and lonely old woman.

The German WW1 ‘Ace’, Baron von Richthofen

Posted in Aviation, World War 1 on Thursday, 13 December 2012

This edited article about Baron von Richthofen originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 797 published on 23rd April 1977.

The Red Baron, picture, image, illustration

Te Red Baron in action by Wilf Hardy

In the First World War, the bravest and most spectacular pilot to fly against the Allies was Baron Manfred von Richthofen, who was known on both sides of the Western Front as the “Red Knight of Germany”. When Richthofen wrote a book on his experiences in 1917, he revealed that one of the men for whom he had the greatest admiration was an English airman named Captain Albert Ball, V.C. Captain Ball had shot down 40 German planes before he was killed in action.

This admiration for an enemy was typical of Richthofen. To him, aerial warfare was some sort of game which had very little to do with the appalling misery suffered by millions of men in the muddy trenches far below.

When Richthofen enlisted in the German Air Force after the outbreak of war in 1914, he soon showed his uncanny skill as a pilot. His instructors said he had been born to fly: as soon as he began his operational duties it was clear that he had been born to fight as well. By the time he was 25 years of age he had claimed 20 victims. Then, in February, 1917, he took command of the 11th Chasing Squadron which contained Germany’s top pilots and earned the nickname of “Richthofen’s Flying Circus”.

During the next 14 months Richthofen shot down Allied planes at the rate of one a week. Then, on 21st April 1918, he met the same fate as his English hero Captain Ball. Somewhere near the Somme battlefield, his aircraft was hit, and he died in the blazing, twisted wreckage. It was estimated that he had destroyed 80 Allied planes.