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Archive for January, 2013

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The elegant neo-classicism of Robert Adam

Posted in Architecture, Art, Arts and Crafts, Country House, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This edited article about Robert Adam originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.

The Adelphi, picture, image, illustration

The Adelphi was designed and developed by the Adam brohers

There was chaos in the Strand. Thousands of people were jamming the Thames Embankment. All over central London the horse-drawn traffic was held up and thrown into confusion.

All the trouble was caused by sightseers flocking to see one of the greatest re-development schemes ever undertaken. The four Adam brothers, Robert, James, John and William, were rebuilding a whole section of central London.

The date was 1769, and even then London was suffering from that bursting-at-the-seams feeling that characterizes the city’s development today. That was why the Adam brothers, all famed architects, had produced their ¬£140,000 scheme for rebuilding a riverside area at the back of the Strand, one of London’s busiest and most crowded streets.

And what a plan! New buildings and roads were to be laid on top of a great platform supported by arches – and the site was to incorporate wharves and storage facilities for goods brought up the Thames by ship.

But the bold plan of the Adam brothers was dogged by ill-luck. First, to make it work, it was necessary to reclaim land from the Thames, but the Corporation of the City of London refused the brothers’ permission to drain part of the river.

Furious, Robert Adam, the architectural genius of the quartet, lobbied Members of Parliament. A Bill was passed to give the brothers permission to drain the land, and the work went steadily on.

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Henrietta Maria – mother of two monarchs, grandmother of three

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This edited article about Queen Henrietta Maria originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.

Charles I at Oxford, picture, image, illustration

Charles I greeting Henrietta Maria in Oxford after her return to England

A year after she had said good-bye to her husband King Charles I and departed for France, Queen Henrietta returned again to England. The date was February, 1643; the circumstances very much changed from that day when, as a young French princess, she had crossed the Channel to marry Charles, then Prince of Wales.

For England was now plunged in Civil War, and Henrietta, who had spent her year in exile pawning her wealth to buy stores for her husband’s fight against Oliver Cromwell, was now practically penniless.

In the Channel the Queen’s ship was hit by a violent storm. After a fortnight at sea she landed in Bridlington Bay, Yorkshire, and spent the night in a seafront house.

At five o’clock the next morning five Parliamentary warships, whose captains had heard of the Queen’s landing, slipped into the bay and set up a furious bombardment of her house. The Queen, courageous as ever, left the place by the side door and took shelter in a ditch. One of the cannon balls, she said afterwards, killed one of her servants who was sheltering fifty yards away from her.

Henrietta had come to England to be reunited with her husband, and this she was now determined to achieve. While her stores were being unloaded she moved into another, safer house near Bridlington. The owner, unfortunately for him, had gone off to fight for Cromwell – a point which Henrietta countered by “commandeering” her absent host’s silver and plate, and pawning it for the royalist cause. Then the indefatigable Queen marched westwards with her supporters to the Vale of Keynton, near Edgehill in Warwickshire, where, for the last time, she was reunited with King Charles.

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The accursed Tavernier Blue or Hope Diamond

Posted in Famous news stories, Geology, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Superstition on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This edited article about the Hope Diamond originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.

Louis XIV, picture, image, illustration

Louis XIV was delighted to buy the Hope Diamond from Tavernier

With a wave of his hand the visitor to the Court of King Louis the Fourteenth spread out twenty-five magnificent diamonds on to a spindly-legged table that stood between him and the French King.

The King’s eyes sparkled. Some of the diamonds were the biggest he had ever seen. One was particularly brilliant – a blue diamond that the visitor, whose name was Tavernier, carefully set aside from the rest.

Tavernier had brought back the diamonds from India. King Louis, always prepared to buy great treasures for his palaces, made an offer for them which was accepted.

There was, however, one disturbing point that Tavernier wanted to explain about the diamonds – and about the blue stone in particular: they carried a terrible curse upon them.

Before Tavernier could say any more, the King laughed him to scorn.

“You say . . .” he exclaimed, with tears of mirth running down his cheeks, “that this – this stone – was once the eye of a Hindu idol? Well, I suppose I can believe that – but to say that it carries a curse. . . !” The King dissolved into laughter again.

“But Your Majesty,” protested Tavernier, “as an experienced traveller and collector, I –”

The King cut him short with a wave of his hand. “Don’t tell me any more, Monsieur Tavernier. I’ll buy these stones and give you a good price for them – but please don’t tell me fairy stories into the bargain. You’ve been in the East too long.”

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St Paul is driven out by the Ephesian silversmiths

Posted in Ancient History, Bible, Religion on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This edited article about St Paul originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.

Temple of Diana, picture, image, illustration

The Temple of Diana at Ephesus

One of the great sights of Ephesus was a magnificent temple, in which stood a statue of the pagan goddess, Diana. This shrine was recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and people travelled far to see it. This enabled the local merchants to enjoy a profitable trade, for among the most popular souvenirs to be bought in Ephesus were little silver images of the Goddess which were made by local craftsmen.

It was a silversmith called Demetrius who first drew attention to the way in which this trade was beginning to decrease. First he talked to his neighbours, then with their support he called a meeting of all the silversmiths in the city, and made a speech which caused more trouble than even he expected.

“Our difficulties all began when this man Paul arrived,” he shouted. “Before that we were doing well. Nobody said a thing to spoil our trade. But he persuades people not to worship Diana and not to buy images of her. Far too much attention is being paid to him. He is a visitor here while he does nothing but insult our city and ruin our business.”

It was not long before the whole meeting got out of hand. Men were arguing violently, shouting and shaking their fists, and getting into a very ugly mood. Soon they began a demonstration. A party of them marched through the city chanting “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

Before long the whole place was in an uproar, and people began flocking to the huge open-air theatre for a mass meeting. Most of them did not know what all the disturbance was about, but were quite happy to join the marchers and to shout, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”

Paul and his converts watched these events with dismay. When two of their fellow Christians were dragged along too, Paul wanted to go along and speak to the crowd, but his friends warned him not to. Another speaker, who was anxious to defend the Christians, could not even get a hearing. The crowd just went on shouting, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” for two hours.

At last the Town Clerk managed to make himself heard. He warned the crowd that such demonstrations were liable to severe punishment by the Roman rulers, and that if they had a genuine complaint against Paul the proper place to hear it was in the law courts.

The crowd dispersed, and the threat to Paul and his followers was over. The silversmiths went back to their workshops, but Paul left Ephesus until the feeling against his teachings subsided.

The modernisation of British farming

Posted in British Countryside, Farming, Historical articles, History, Technology on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This edited article about British farming originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.

Harvest time, picture, image, illustration

Harvest time on a British farm by Ronald Lampitt

Prehistoric man was a hunter and fisherman. It did not occur to him to domesticate the wild animals or plant seeds. When at last cultivation began he had no metals, and the wheel had not been invented. He made his tools of wood, horn, flint or stone.

The Ancient Britons, like other peoples, would farm in one place for a season or two, then move on. But the Celts, arriving from the Continent, established permanent farms.

With the discovery of metals and the invention of the wheel the plough became a primary tool of farming. The Romans who colonized Britain used a light plough, unsuited to British conditions. But another tribe from the Continent, the Belgae, brought a heavy, wheeled plough with an iron blade, or coulter, to cut into the soil and a ploughshare and mouldboard to turn the soil over – as it is done today.

Roman methods were rejected. The Belgic plough was drawn by six oxen and because these powerful teams were difficult to turn round, the land was ploughed in long strips, called furrows.

This set a farming pattern in Britain right up to the nineteenth century. The strip, 220 yards long, became a standard of measurement still used today – one furrow long, or furlong.

The strip, which was 22 yards wide, was also the origin of the English acre, 220 yards by 22 – the area which a team of oxen could plough in one day.

The land was split up into big, open fields, divided into the long, Belgic strip for growing crops. Ploughing was by a village team but crops from each strip belonged to the owner of that strip. Meadow, pasture and woodland was shared.

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The origin and definition of the word ‘rally’

Posted in Interesting Words, Language on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This edited article about language originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.

Roman legionary, picture, image, illustration

A Roman Legionary depicted as a standard-bearer by Graham Coton

Armies of old had a standard-bearer to serve as a rallying-point for the soldiers scattered in battle. The general meaning of the word rally is to reassemble, gather together, especially for combined effort. It is really a shortened form of re-ally, from the French rallier, or, tracing it even farther back, from the Latin re-, again, ad, to, and ligare, to bind.

Friends rally round us when we are in trouble. An invalid rallies when he recovers to some extent lost health or strength. Shares on the Stock Exchange rally in price when they regain a higher value after falling.

As a noun, a rally is a mass meeting for a common purpose, and can range from an assembly of cars or caravans to a big political gathering. Those taking part may have a rallying-cry, that is, a slogan which sums up what the group stands for.

In games such as tennis, a rally is a continued rapid exchange of strokes between opposing players. Possibly the connection here is the concentration of effort.

There is also a less common word rally meaning to banter or tease. This comes from the French railler, to rail at in the sense of reproaching or mocking.

Brer Coon is Brer Rabbit’s best friend

Posted in America, Animals, Anthropology, Literature, Myth, Wildlife on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This edited article about the racoon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.

Brer Rabbit and Brer Coon, picture, image, illustration

Brer Rabbit and Brer Coon by Henry Fox

Although the true racoon is native only to North America, it is one of the best-known wild animals in the world because of its appearance again and again in the Brer Rabbit stories of Uncle Remus. Indeed, Brer Coon is just as famous as Brer Rabbit himself.

The racoon belongs to a group of carnivorous (flesh eating) animals called by zoologists procyonidae. It is a close relative of the bear, but is much smaller and, unlike the bear, has a respectable tail.

An adult racoon is about three feet long (including a ten-inch tail). It was once the commonest of animals in America and was found over an area from Canada to Mexico. Then the froutiersmen relentlessly hunted it for its fur, which was made into the famous Davy Crockett hats.

Until quite recently the racoon was the most important for-bearing animal of North America. Less than a century ago much of the buying and selling in the Mississippi valley was done by using racoon skins as money.

The racoon is an animal of the night and is seldom seen by day except in cloudy weather. There is a saying among American farmers that if you catch a glimpse of Brer Coon in the daytime rain cannot be far away.

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Is Merlin the magician buried in Peeblesshire?

Posted in British Countryside, British Towns, Geography, Historical articles, History, Legend, Scotland on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This edited article about Peeblesshire originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.

The dying Merlin, picture, image, illustration

The Lady of the Lake visits the dying Merlin by Richard Hook

The legend of Merlin, the wizard, has always had strong connections with Wales and the chivalrous King Arthur and his Court.

But in fact the stories of Merlin travelled far farther than Wales and the west country. The folklore of both Brittany and Scotland are full of tales of his prophecies and his existence in the fifth and sixth centuries.

And if you travel to Peeblesshire, just a few miles south of Edinburgh, you can visit the spot where Merlin, according to legend, is buried.

His “grave” lies between the River Tweed and the Powsail in the midst of rolling pleasant country.

Surrounding the grave is yet another legend – the work of a Scottish self-styled wizard, Thomas the Rhymer.

This medieval wizard who would prophesy with amazing accuracy the violent deaths of kings, and important historic events, said of Merlin’s grave:

“When Tweed and Pausayl (old spelling) meet at Merlin’s grave, England and Scotland shall one monarch have.”

And, says the legend, on the very day that James VI of Scotland and I of England was crowned, the Tweed overflowed into the Powsail.

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The satirist Lucian was a fearless critic of the rich

Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Literature on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This edited article about Lucian originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 113 published on 14 March 1964.

Lucian, picture, image, illustration

Lucian the rhetorician and satirist by James E McConnell

Space travel, a war of the worlds, an invisible man: they sound like subjects for modern science fiction. And yet these same subjects appeared in books the Greek author Lucian wrote 1,800 years ago.

In his True History, Lucian tells how he sets sail in a ship which is snatched up by a whirlwind and carried upwards for seven days and nights.

As he and his comrades approach the moon, some enormous birds called horse vultures carry them down on to its surface. There they watch a battle between moon-men and the inhabitants of the sun. After this they journey on through the universe before eventually landing back in the sea on earth again.

Another book tells how a poor cobbler named Micyllus makes himself invisible and tours the homes of rich men. When he sees their vices and miseries he is cured of his envy for their wealth.

But Lucian warned his readers: “I write of things which I have neither seen nor suffered nor learned from another, things which are not and never could have been, and therefore my readers should by no means believe them.”

What he did want them to believe in, however, was the rapier criticism of the gods, great men and great principles, and of society in general that studded like fine jewels the lurid, comic and tawdry settings of his stories. For Lucian was “modern” in another way. He was above all a satirist; one of the world’s first, yet far sharper and more fearless – and therefore more effective – than those we permit to slash at society today.

But before we glance at his massive output of 79 prose works, let us see who Lucian was.

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The folk-tale origins of ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’

Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature on Wednesday, 30 January 2013

This edited article about the Tale of Ali Baba originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 112 published on 7 March 1964.

Ali Baba playbill, picture, image, illustration

A Victorian playbill or poster for the popular stage version of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

In the year A.D. 942, somewhere in Persia, there died a man called Abu Abdulla Ibn Abdus al-Jashyari. Abu, to shorten his name a little, was one of the world’s first journalists, even though there were no newspapers or magazines in those days.

During his life he set out to write down the one thousand and one stories that a beautiful woman named Scheherazade had once told King Shahyar to keep him interested and to stop him cutting off her pretty head.

Abu took this trouble, he told his friends, for these reasons: there were still people living in his lifetime who had heard the stories handed down since Scheherazade’s death; and because he believed many of the stories were either true, or based on truth.

“Women,” Abu is reported to have said, “even exquisitely beautiful women like Scheherazade, may be good liars, but they do not have the powers of invention necessary to enthral a king for a thousand-and-one nights.”

Abu’s friends saw the sense in this, and they encouraged him in his self-appointed task, for, they said: “Who but a woman would disagree?”

Abu, it seems, took great pains with his reporting, and travelled the length and breadth of the Middle East seeking the information he needed. But he died having completed only 480 of the stories, leaving the other 521 to be pieced together by less competent pens, some of which had the check to re-write what he had already written.

The collection became known as “The Thousand and One Nights,” or “The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment.”

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