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Archive for October, 2013

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The musical Russian fisherman and Tsar of the Sea

Posted in Historical articles, History, Legend, Music, Myth, Sea on Wednesday, 30 October 2013

This edited article about Russian mythology and folklore originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 443 published on 11 July 1970.

Sadko,  picture, image, illustration

Four scenes from the Legend of Sadko by Andrew Howat

Could any champion, however strong, lift the whole weight of the earth? “If anybody can, I am that person,” thought Svyatogor, who was a bogatyr – or “elder valiant champion” – of the ancient Russian people.

Svyatogor is supposed to have been so strong that the legends say that his muscles weighed him down by their great size.

But he was proud and declared that if he could find a place where all the weight of the earth was concentrated, he would lift it.

His searches took him to a treeless plain, called a “steppe,” where he found a small bag. When he poked it with his staff, it did not move.

Neither did it budge when he touched it with his finger. Reaching down from the saddle of his horse, he grasped the bag in his hand, but could not lift it.

In the poem in which this episode is described, Svyatogor says:

“Many years have I travelled the world
But never yet have I met with a miracle like this.
A little bag
Which will not stir or move or be lifted.”

Climbing down from his horse, Svyatogor took hold of the bag with both hands. With a great struggle, he lifted it as high as his knees.

However, Svyatogor was not as successful as he thought, for the bag had not risen. Instead, he had sunk knee-deep into the earth; and he was stuck there firmly.

“Svyatogor,” the poem says, “had indeed found the weight of the earth, but God punished him for his pride.”

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Ghosts and greasepaint at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London

Posted in Actors, Architecture, Historical articles, History, London, Music, Royalty, Theatre on Wednesday, 30 October 2013

This edited article about theatre originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 443 published on 11 July 1970.

Kean at Drury Lane, picture, image, illustration

Edmund Kean outside the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where he triumphed in 'The Merchant of Venice'

The building of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, was the dream of two men, Sir William Davenant and Thomas Killigrew.

Behind their dream was the dream of all the strolling players, acting in barns and inn yards. Actors were considered vagabonds 400 years ago. Some of them, when banded together in a company, could gain a little protection from a nobleman who gave them his patronage.

Shakespeare’s company was known as “The Lord Chamberlain’s Men.” Later, under the patronage of King James I it became “The King’s Men.” Technically, the actors were enrolled in the Royal Household.

The first man to realise that the theatre could only flourish if a Royal Charter was obtained to build a permanent playhouse was Sir William Davenant. He may have obtained his love of the theatre from his godfather, William Shakespeare! His father, John Davenant, was an Oxford innkeeper and Shakespeare often visited the family. No doubt young William could not be kept in school on those occasions.

However, Davenant did not become an actor when he left school, but went to Court as a page. He started writing plays and Charles I liked his work so much that he made him Court Poet and gave him a handsome salary.

It was on 26th March, 1639, that William Davenant obtained from Charles “A Royal Patent, under the Great Seal of England” to erect a theatre. It was to stand “upon a parcel of ground lying near unto or behind the Three Kings’ Ordinary in Fleet Street. . . .”

That theatre was never built. The backers, who had come forward at first, withdrew because of the growing threat of Civil War.

Davenant did not lose heart. He kept his charter safe. But it was a bad time for actors. In 1642, pleasure-hating Puritans closed all the theatres and destroyed most of them, and actors found themselves without prospect of work.

Davenant had a varied career in the Civil War, fighting for the King, getting himself arrested and managing to stage some performances at his Cockpit Theatre despite the ban. In 1649, however, the theatre was raided. His biggest stroke of luck, due partly to his ability to get his own way, occurred in the 1650s after he had spent some time in exile. In 1656, he managed to get permission to put on stage shows despite the ban!

Cleverly, they appeared to be entertainments with music. The first major event was The Siege of Rhodes, more an opera than a play, which was performed at Rutland House. He put on two propaganda shows, one of which, The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru, was guaranteed to appeal to Cromwell because he disliked the Spaniards!

Another of his achievements was to introduce women into his entertainments, not as actresses but as singers. They had been forbidden to perform publicly up to that time.

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The Smilodon is the best known of the sabre-toothed cats

Posted in Animals, Historical articles, Prehistory on Wednesday, 30 October 2013

This edited article about animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 443 published on 11 July 1970.

Smilodon,  picture, image, illustration

Smilodon or sabre-toothed tiger out hunting by Angus McBride.

In Los Angeles in California there is a small park, and in this park there is a small lake surrounded by railings. The lake looks quite like any other but is, in fact, a pool of tar. There are other such lakes in this locality, which is known as Ranco-La-Brea.

These pools lay in the middle of a vast desolate plain 140,000 years ago. Dust naturally collected on the tarry surface and when rain fell the tar lakes became natural but treacherous reservoirs. From miles around the animals smelled the water and hurried to slake their thirst. The sticky tar trapped these poor creatures. Their cries of distress soon attracted the attention of the flesh-eating creatures, who in turn became bogged down in the tar, whilst attempting to make an easy kill.

Through the course of time the tar has protected the bones of these unfortunate creatures, preserving them so well that scientists can even find on them evidence of the diseases they suffered from.

One of the animal remains found in this way was that of the sabre-toothed carnivore known as Smilodon. Practically all the Smilodon skeletons found in the tar pools were those of young and inexperienced Smilodons, the more experienced being too intelligent to hunt their prey in this way.

The most striking feature of the Smilodon was its pair of sabre-shaped canines, which were sharpened along the rear edge and grew to a length of about 6 inches. When the mouth was closed, these fearsome weapons projected far down on either side of the lower jaw. To make full use of them the beast had to open his mouth very wide – far wider than is normally necessary – and to do this he was aided by the special way in which his lower jaw was attached to the skull.

No-one could doubt that Smilodon caused much alarm and fear wherever he travelled, hunting the early forms of horse, gazelles, antelopes and even the enormous Mastodon. His large scale destruction of herbivorous animals might well have aided in their extinction. Their extinction in turn might well have brought about his own disappearance.

Jacobite invasion plots were foiled by placing a spy in James II’s court-in-exile

Posted in Espionage, Historical articles, History, Religion, Royalty on Tuesday, 29 October 2013

This edited article about espionage after the Glorious Revolution originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 443 published on 11 July 1970.

Jacobite invasion foiled, picture, image, illustration

James Stuart could only watch helplessly as the boats meant for the invasion of England burned by C L Doughty

The ship lay in Dover Harbour ready to sail. Two Jacobite agents, bound for France, stood on deck, deep in conversation. They did not notice the party of soldiers as they quietly came aboard. They were still talking intently as the soldiers surrounded them, and the officer in charge had to interrupt them politely in order to place them under arrest.

It was 1690. And one more attempt – the Scots Plot – to restore James II to the throne of England had been foiled. Since he had been driven out in the Bloodless Revolution of 1688, the hapless Stuart had striven desperately to unseat William III, the Dutchman, who had supplanted him. Now he would fall into yet another of his moods of black depression among his shabby court at St. Germain.

Meanwhile, in London, Lord Portland, to whom William had entrusted the security of the realm, was gleeful. He scanned the papers which had been taken from the two agents, and noted with approval that they incriminated a number of English and Scottish nobles. This confirmed information which had already been supplied to him by an agent in whom he was coming to place an increasing amount of trust.

The agent’s name was John Macky, and he was to repay Portland’s confidence amply in the next few years.

A period of quiet followed the Scots Plot, but nothing could be better calculated to arouse Portland’s suspicions. He sent Macky to Paris to find out what the Jacobites were up to. After a few weeks in which he insinuated himself into the Stuart court, Macky discovered the momentous truth that the French were preparing to assist the Jacobites in an invasion of England.

In the port of La Hogue, in Normandy, Macky saw for himself a fleet of warships and troop-transports and the French Army camped nearby. The enterprise, boasted the French, was infallible. And it was due to begin very soon.

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Victorian councillors finally outlawed all men from nude bathing at Brighton

Posted in Historical articles, History, Leisure, Royalty, Sea on Tuesday, 29 October 2013

This edited article about the British seaside originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 443 published on 11 July 1970.

seaside voyeurs, picture, image, illustration

Forbidden to go within 100 yeards of the local bathing beauties, some Victorian male found a solution with their telescopes by Richard Hook

Queen Victoria was one of the most persistent diary keepers who ever lived. Among the torrent of words which she kept flowing for nearly 60 years we find a multitude of homely references set down without grandeur. These light up many aspects of ordinary life-as-it-was lived in her times, and show how she changed some of these with her people.

The seaside and bathing are examples. In 1846 the Queen and her Prince Consort, Albert, moved into the newly-built Osborne House in the Isle of Wight where the couple were to spend so many happy days with their family of Princes and Princesses.

Within a year of the Royal Family’s occupation of Osborne the Queen made her first physical contact with the sea. When her ancestor King George the Third was thrust into the briny at Weymouth for the good of his health the occasion, we remember, was a public one set to the blaring of brass bands. This would not do for Victoria who was, after all, a “lady,” and is said to have observed, “Ladies have no legs.”

Her Majesty’s first dip took place from the private beach at Osborne, far from prying eyes, but she made good note of it in her diary for 30th July, 1847.

“Drove down to the beach with my maids and went into the bathing-machine, where I undressed and bathed in the sea (for the first time in my life), a very nice bathing woman attending me. I thought it delightful till I put my head under the water, when I thought I should be stifled. After dressing again, drove back.”

To this day Queen Victoria’s bathing-machine may be seen by the shore at Osborne, a swagger affair with four wheels, a platform with an elegant wooden roof, a balustraded flight of five steps descending to the sea and room within its four walls for at least four queens!

Of course, by the time that Victoria took to the briny, sea-bathing was growing in popularity at all the expanding resorts, and bathing-machines were not only compulsory but were paying propositions. And very fantastic some of them were, particularly those designed by a certain Benjamin Beale, a Quaker of Margate. If ladies bathed, then they must bathe with modesty, and preferably unseen by anybody. Protection was needed from some gentlemen who, although forbidden to approach within a hundred yards of where ladies were taking to the water, had adopted the practice of keeping their distance but making shamelessly free with telescopes.

Mr. Beale’s machines put paid to this. All of them were fitted at the seaward side with an elaborate contraption known as a “modesty hood.” The “modesty hood” was a vast canvas umbrella, rather like a ladies’ crinoline, which, at the pull of a string, unrolled itself to the water-level, producing within its protection a “sea-bath” measuring some 8 ft. wide by 13 ft. long. Into the murky gloom of these flounced tunnels descended the ladies in what was described as “a manner consistent with the most refined delicacy.”

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In 1914 the rapid German retreat should have handed victory to the Allies

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, World War 1 on Tuesday, 29 October 2013

This edited article about World War One originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 443 published on 11 July 1970.

WW1 trench warfare, picture, image, illustration

War was soon bogged down in the trenches by Frank Bellamy

It was September, 1914, and with the battle smoke of the Marne still hanging in the warm summer air, the German armies were in general retreat. Their position was perilous to the extreme. At one point, there was a 30-mile gap in their flanks, protected only by a scratch force of cavalry and bicycle sharpshooters.

Coming up behind them was the British Expeditionary Force, with its hard-riding cavalry: seasoned veterans of the North-West Frontier and the African veld, eager to get among the fleeing enemy with sword and lance.

For a few days, there was a genuine opportunity of making a swift ending to the war – by means of massed cavalry, used with dash and determination. The British generals were all cavalrymen, obsessed by horses, and convinced of their supremacy on the battlefield. In the four nightmare years that lay ahead, millions of men were to be sacrificed in vain attempts to reproduce the very conditions that obtained during the first two weeks of September, 1914.

And yet – the opportunity was thrown away.

Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief, must have known where his course lay. Standard cavalry tactics called for the ruthless pursuit of retreating troops, regardless of normal risks.

Instead of driving his men forward, he faltered – anxious of losing contact with the French army on his flank. The pursuit was carried out with unbelievable caution. Men who, in the years to follow, would be sent to certain death from mass machine gun fire, were allowed to halt and take cover from small pockets of the enemy rearguard.

There were exceptions. On the morning of 7th September, a troop and a half of the 9th Lancers took the village of Moncel at the gallop, only to be driven out by two squadrons of the German 1st Garde Dragoner. Later, the Lancers’ commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel David Campbell, led his men in a headlong charge against the greatly superior enemy force. Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell – who had ridden in the Grand National of 1912 – was wounded by a lance thrust, perhaps the last man in the British Army to be wounded by this weapon. The charge was successful.

But the sands were running out. The impetus of the German retreat slackened, and the first trenches began to take shape on the line of the River Aisne. Barbed wire – surely the prime, hideous symbol of World War I – was staked out before the trenches.

The war of movement bogged down – and all hope was lost for a whole generation of Europe’s finest manhood.

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Edward Vernon uncovered the Dublin Castle conspiracy to dethrone Charles II

Posted in Espionage, Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty on Monday, 28 October 2013

This edited article about espionage after the Restoration originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 442 published on 4 July 1970.

Dublin Castle plotters, picture, image, illustration

Some of the plotters escaped including Blood by C L Doughty

It was 1663. The convulsions of the Civil War and the tense years of the Protectorate had passed and under her restored king, Charles II, England looked forward to peace and stability. But abroad fanatical Roundheads would not give up the struggle and plotted continuously to overthrow the monarchy.

One such group planned to seize Dublin Castle and raise rebellion in Ireland and Scotland. They might easily have succeeded, had it not been for a cunning agent, Philip Alden, and a Royalist spy-master, Colonel Edward Vernon.

One Monday early in January, Vernon was making his final preparations before leaving Dublin. While Conyers, his servant, packed the last of his clothes, the Colonel leafed through the reports he planned to present to the Secretary of State in London, and wondered idly how to pass the rest of the evening.

His problem was soon solved. He heard the sound of a horse hard-ridden and then Conyers was ushering in one of Vernon’s best agents in Ireland, Philip Alden.

As Vernon poured Alden some wine he eyed the spy keenly. Rumours had recently spread that Roundhead agents were flocking from Scotland and Holland to Ireland, and Vernon had sent Alden to discover their intentions. Now it was plain from Alden’s burning eyes and his impatience to report, that trouble was indeed on its way.

Alden gulped down his wine and pulled out a list. Did the Colonel recognise these names, he asked; and he proceeded to reel off the names of some of the most prominent politicians in Ireland. They had been meeting secretly for some weeks, he said. Their principal go-between and emissary was an adventurer called Lieutenant Blood. They planned to seize Dublin Castle as the signal for rebellion in Ireland and Scotland, and for the disaffected in England to rally to the Roundhead cause.

Vernon grimaced and ruefully ripped up his previous reports. Now they would have to be rewritten. Far into the night he and Alden sat planning their next moves.

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Castle Howard is the grandest private house in Yorkshire

Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History on Monday, 28 October 2013

This edited article about architecture originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 442 published on 4 July 1970.

Castle Howard, picture, image, illustration

Castle Howard

John Vanbrugh stared in amazement at the man who stood before him. Vanbrugh had very definite ideas about architecture, but had never in his life designed a house. Yet his companion, Charles Howard, had asked him to build a house for him in Yorkshire fit for a great nobleman – a house to be called Castle Howard.

Vanbrugh’s career had been one of surprises. Beginning as a military one, it had changed completely when he began to write highly successful comedy plays. His success as a play-wright and his reputation as a wit, led to an invitation for him to join an exclusive haunt of the Whig nobility, known as the Kit-Cat Club. It was here that he came to the notice of young Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle. Howard at 30 was acting Earl Marshal of England – as his cousin, the Duke of Norfolk, was too young to fill the position at that time.

Howard and Vanbrugh had had many discussions on architecture, and on the proposed Castle Howard which William Talman was designing for the earl. When Howard and Talman fell out over Talman’s payment, Vanbrugh was given his chance. Never a man to refuse a challenge, he set about drawing up plans.

Vanbrugh enlisted the services of Nicholas Hawksmoor in his great task and agreed to pay him £40 a year and £50 for each journey to the site, as it was a long journey from London in those days. Hawksmoor was a considerable architect in his own right who had all the practical knowledge which Vanbrugh lacked. He had been Sir Christopher Wren’s clerk at 18 and his assistant in many undertakings, and in 1698 was Clerk of Works at Greenwich Hospital. This was one of the first buildings in England to have featured in its design a great dome, and Castle Howard became the first private house in the country to be built with one.

Many scholars have said that Hawksmoor and not Vanbrugh was the real architect of Castle Howard and their later joint venture of Blenheim Palace, dismissing Vanbrugh as an amateur. But then many famous architects of the time were also amateurs, including Inigo Jones.

Perhaps it is fairer to say that Vanbrugh could not have managed without Hawksmoor’s knowledge and experience. The partnership was obviously a satisfactory one as it lasted for more than 25 years.

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The prehistoric horse took thousands of years to lose its toes

Posted in Animals, Nature, Prehistory on Monday, 28 October 2013

This edited article about animals originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 442 published on 4 July 1970.

Orchippus and tiger, picture, image, illustration

Orchippus being pursued by a prehistoric tiger

The earliest known member of the horse family was Eohippus. It was about the size of a fox and much smaller than the domestic horse of today. But Eohippus starts the 50-million-year evolutionary journey of the horse.

Its successor was Orohippus. Orohippus was very much like Eohippus in appearance and had not yet developed much in size, being only 1 ft. 3 in. high at the shoulder. Its head was no longer than that of a dog and, although very early in its evolution towards the modern horse, had a remarkably equine appearance. The main difference in the appearance of Orohippus’s head was that its eyes lay further forward. As you know, the modern horse possesses hooves. These had not yet developed with Orohippus. It still possessed toes.

Some remains of this tiny forerunner of the horse were found in what is now known as the Bridger Basin in Wyoming. In the Eocene period, the time of Orohippus, the Bridger Basin was a swampy area with numerous lakes inhabited by crocodiles and turtles. Among the marshes and lakes were areas of grassy shrub-dotted plain. Orohippus selected these grassy plains for its home, unlike Eohippus, who had existed in the same region, but in the swampy areas.

Why did one early form of horse, Eohippus, change into another, Orohippus? The reason is that they changed to suit their environment. The most obvious changes came about in their teeth – changing from those suitable for chewing soft swamp plants to those suitable for chewing dry, tougher grasses found on the plains. Their feet also changed, from those suitable for slow, casual wanderings in the overgrown swampy areas to those suitable for the more speedy movement necessary to survive in the open plains.

Later, the grassy plains developed from small areas among lakes and swamps to wide, flat grassy plains, and the feet of the early horses changed with them, eventually becoming hooves, more suitable than ever for speed.

The Old Harrovian who discovered Knossus was a brilliant foreign correspondent

Posted in Ancient History, Archaeology, Architecture, Historical articles, History, Legend, Myth on Monday, 28 October 2013

This edited article about archaeology originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 442 published on 4 July 1970.

Arthur Evans, picture, image, illustration

Arthur Evans visited many trouble spots in Europe, and more than once he was arrested on charges of spying and expelled

Arthur Evans was a short-sighted coin collector who found a forgotten civilisation.

Entirely by accident he discovered the remains of a beautiful city that dated back to 2000 B.C. It was the oldest city in Europe, and much to many scholars’ surprise was the birthplace of civilisation in the eastern Mediterranean.

He made his discovery on the island of Crete. The city that he unearthed is Knossus, which was a thousand years old when the Greeks were clambering into their wooden horse at Troy. The Knossus civilisation was already confused with myth long before the great Classical days of Greece.

Although the beginnings of Knossus are about five hundred years more recent than the pyramids, and some five thousand years younger than Jericho, believed to be the oldest city in the world, it was a surprising find.

It was also a very upsetting find for many scholarly theories, for it proved that civilisation had not flowered first on the mainland of Greece as had been thought. The warrior cities of Greece, it seems, learned many of their cultured ways from earlier Knossus and other Cretan kingdoms.

The story of the discovery of Knossus begins with the character of Arthur Evans. He was born of a wealthy and brilliant Victorian family and received his education at Harrow and Oxford.

Although he had a keen, scholarly mind, he also had a fiery and determined temperament coupled with a restless nature. As a young man he spent many years travelling in Eastern Europe. In those days the Balkans were part of either the Turkish or Austrian Empires, and it was fashionable for wealthy young Victorians to support, or at least sympathise with, the oppressed Slavs and Greeks in their struggle for independence.

Evans was no exception. He visited all the trouble-spots and sent home lively reports to a British newspaper. Apart from his political activities and journalism, he also found time to study the ancient history of those lands, to explore ancient ruins and collect coins, pottery and other artefacts.

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