I Didn’t Know That…

History of EnglandOne of the great delights of learning is to be able to read or hear something new, something unknown, something that challenges the mind or your previously formed ideas and opinions. Something that fascinates and delights you. That “ah ha!” moment.

Last week I stumbled across a website called History of England and I felt like that when I started to read through it. Better yet, I spent an hour downloading the 104 free podcasts of his history (plus the eight or so supplementary ones) to listen to while I walk my dogs.*

The site is a blog created by David Crowther, who also reads the pieces for the podcasts. Crowther modestly calls himself a “part time history enthusiast,” but his writing is as good as many of the histories I’ve read.**

I discovered the site when I was searching for some data on the Middle Ages for my post on the Unknown Monk meme last week. I started reading, then reading some more, and suddenly it was several hours later.

Crowther’s succinct profile is:

Interests: Well, History, obviously. But also a dedicated allottment owner, though at the most important times it’s difficult to get down there enough. Then very keen on walking, whether with the dog or something more major. Play tennis, bit of golf; armchair Rugby & cricket fan. Supported the Leicester Tigers since . . . a long time ago.

With some breaks for personal time, Crowther produces a weekly podcast – an amazing amount of work and dedication I admire and respect. I know how tough it can be to do this sort of work with any regularity. But this stuff requires a lot of background work: reading, culling images, cross-checking.

Plus he fills his blog with maps, text and images to supplement the podcasts. It’s a wonderful place to simply explore. England’s history is so rich it never fails to captivate me. Somewhere in that timeline, my ancestors lived and breathed, fought, worked the land… where, or course, I don’t know, but probably in the north near my father’s home of Oldham.

I started listening to Crowther’s podcasts on Monday and I’ve finished a mere eight of them – each is about 30 minutes. I’ve just finished the second on Alfred the Great and am in the late 9th century. Really intriguing guy – and learned, not just one of the era’s typical warrior-kings. Literate – in fact he not only taught himself Latin (and translated Latin into the vernacular), but wrote some of the earliest written works in the vernacular.

So far the stories been full of surprising information about the early English – and the successive invasions of the Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Vikings and Danes after the Romans pulled out of Britain in 410 CE. Ripping stuff, and told with a light hand and a dry sense of humour. He reads very well, with a good speaking voice, measured and easy to follow.

It’s an era I know damned little about – actually no one does, really, because until Alfred there was little written, or at least little that has survived. It’s not called The Dark Ages for nothing. But it turns out to be a rich, fascinating time for all that. Kings with odd names, warriors, battles, politics, internecine squabbles, church and state, family feuds… the stuff of good history.

One of those “ah ha!” moments was his talk about Offa, King of Mercia in the 8th century CE. I’d heard the name, but wasn’t really aware of his place or importance. Now I know enough to want to delve deeper. I expect a trip to Chapters or Amazon in the near future will include a search for books on this period.

I’m hooked. And I have 100 more to go!

By the time I get to the end, I expect he will have added many more, so I can look forward to many enjoyable hours. His 104th podcast – the latest as of this writing – only brings us to the mid-14th century. He hasn’t even reached my personal favourite – the late Tudors and early Stuarts. I can hardly wait for him to delve into Henry VIII, Elizabeth and Shakespeare. That should be getting close to lecture 200, I suspect.

~~~~~ 

* My usual listening fare has been audio courses from The Great Courses, which I still enjoy listening to. Their individual lectures are 45-60 minutes each, which means I sometimes can’t finish one when walking the dogs. Sometimes I listen to music copied from old 78 recordings instead.

**  And perhaps better than many – with history as a major interest of mine, I’ve read thousands of books over the last few decades and not all of them are as spellbinding as Crowther’s modest work.

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Losing the world, and some sleep, but enjoying it

 

Civ VBrave New World – not the novel of a dystopian future by Aldous Huxley – is the name of the latest add-on for Civilization V, following after Gods & Kings, released in 2012. BNW was released last Tuesday, and I was at the local EB Games store to get one on launch day. Over the weekend, I took a look at it, playing for several hours in learning mode.

Civilization, if you don’t already know, is a turn-based 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) computer game/simulation created by Sid Meier, originally in 1991. It has gone through numerous releases (Civ II in 1996, Civ III in 2001, Civ IV in 2005 and the latest, Civ V in 2010). V is built on a hexagonal grid like the old paper wargames, where earlier versions used a square grid. The map can be randomly generated each game from a template (many islands, large continents, one land mas, dessert, jungle,etc.) so every game is different.

It’s always been one of my top five or so favourite computer games, and I’ve played it (and many other Sid Meier games) since the first release.

The basic goal of the game is to build a civilization from the Stone Age to the space age, along the way discovering technologies, building cities, exploring the world, fighting barbarians and then other players (limited to computer opponents until Civ IV, now with online opponents). Your workers need to cultivate the land, too: mine it, build quarries and plantations, chop forests, bridge rivers and link cities with roads and, later, railroads. Growing cities grows your territory, expanding your borders outward, providing more land to till and mine. Continue reading “Losing the world, and some sleep, but enjoying it”

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Waterloo, 200 years later

The BattleThis June we will be a short two years from the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo*. It is expected to be a large event, especially since the 100th anniversary was not celebrated because it fell in the middle of WWI. That gives us enough time to reconsider the battle and to read the histories and reports about it. Wouldn’t it be grand to stand on the field that day, 200 years later?

I have been reading about Napoleon’s campaigns and the events of his reign for many decades, since the early 1970s when I first read David Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon (a book still on my shelves). Dozens of books have been written on the battle, and continue to be written.

I played through many, many wargames of his battles and campaigns, but always for wargamers, Waterloo was a popular and often-played battle. I still have copies of the SPI “Napoleon’s Last Battles” quad game, but, sadly, no one with whom to play it.

As Wellington called it, it was a “near run thing.” The chances for either side to win were close, and if you play the entire three-day campaign in a wargame, starting with the battles at Quatre Bras and Ligny, you have many strategic opportunities to see how history might have changed, had another path been taken, or a different result developed in these earlier clashes.

Looking back, the battle has become the stuff of legend, with not a small amount of mythology mixed into the tale. It was a relatively literate era, and afterwards many accounts of the battle were written, first-hand and the analysts who followed later. Historians have argued over many points in the day, what effect they had, what mistakes were made, what happened and what might have happened.

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Rasputin: Two Perspectives

Grigory RasputinPerhaps no character stands out in pre-Revolution Russia as much as that of Grigory Rasputin. He was influential, enigmatic, charismatic, secretive, held no office, yet had enormous influence on the events and people of the era. How could a barely literate peasant affect the destiny of an empire?

In many ways, Rasputin was the icon of the changing times, in others he represents the end of the old era, the last gasp of the autocratic, superstitious Russia. Mythologies grew up about and around him during his life, and even more so in death. No matter how you view him, he remains a subject of popular interest and his death continues to generate conspiracy theories, almost a century later.

The period from 1881* to 1921 is one of (for me) the most fascinating periods in Russian history.** While the rest of Europe was hell-bent on progress, development and industrialization (as well as colonialism), Russia was a bulwark of almost medieval attitudes and economics against the tide of progress. The fall of the Romanovs and the rise of the Soviets is intriguing.

The same period that saw some of the most brilliant Russian writers and composers also saw brutal anti-semitism, pogroms, and a recalcitrant autocracy digging in to preserve its perceived rights to absolute power.

From a global perspective, given the situation, the Russian Revolution was inevitable, although the resulting Soviet state was not. What it began as, and what it became, are two very different things. But that’s material for another post.

Nicholas Romanov, the last Tsar is one of those great, tragic characters of history; weak and unsuited for the mantle of power in turbulent times that changed the face of the nation and the West. His wife, Alexandra, while stronger, shares much of the blame for his fall from power, in part for her religious interference in secular political issues. And that’s where Rasputin comes into the story.

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The Missing Lines

Mesopotamian tabletThe National Museum of Iraq – known originally as the Baghdad Archaeological Museum – once housed some of the oldest works of literature in the world. Treasures from the origins of civilization, from the cities of Sumeria, Babylon, Assyria were on display*.

In 2003, when the Americans invaded**, a battle was fought between US and Iraqi forces at the museum. The Iraqi troops fled, and looters came in. According to Wikipedia:

According to museum officials the looters concentrated on the heart of the exhibition: “the Warka Vase, a Sumerian alabaster piece more than 5,000 years old; a bronze Uruk statue from the Akkadian period, also 5,000 years old, which weighs 660 pounds; and the headless statue of Entemena. The Harp of Ur was torn apart by looters who removed its gold inlay.”[4] Among the stolen artifacts is the Bassetki Statue made out of bronze, a life-size statue of a young man, originally found in the village Basitke in the northern part of Iraq, an Acadian piece that goes back to 2300 B.C. and the stone statue of King Schalmanezer, from the eighth century B.C.
In addition, the museum’s aboveground storage rooms were looted; the exterior steel doors showed no signs of forced entry. Approximately 3,100 excavation site pieces (jars, vessels, pottery shards, etc.) were stolen, of which over 3,000 have been recovered. The thefts did not appear to be discriminating; for example, an entire shelf of fakes was stolen, while an adjacent shelf of much greater value was undisturbed.
The third occurrence of theft was in the underground storage rooms, where evidence pointed to an inside job. The thieves attempted to steal the most easily transportable objects, which had been intentionally stored in the most remote location possible. Of the four rooms, the only portion disturbed was a single corner in the furthest room, where cabinets contained 100 small boxes containing cylinder seals, beads, and jewelry. Evidence indicated that the thieves possessed keys to the cabinets but dropped them in the dark. Instead, they stole 10,000 small objects that were lying in plastic boxes on the floor. Of them, nearly 2,500 have been recovered.
One of the most valuable artifacts looted was a headless stone statue of the Sumerian king Entemena of Lagash. The Entemena statue, “estimated to be 4,400 years old, is the first significant artifact returned from the United States and by far the most important piece found outside Iraq. American officials declined to discuss how they recovered the statue.” The statue of the king, located in the center of the museum’s second-floor Sumerian Hall, weighs hundreds of pounds, making it the heaviest piece stolen from the museum – the looters “probably rolled or slid it down marble stairs to remove it, smashing the steps and damaging other artifacts.” It was recovered in the United States with the help of Hicham Aboutaam, an art dealer in New York.

The looting was severe enough to spawn several books and magazine articles (also here and here). The museum is still rebuilding and not open to the public, a decade later.

One of the side effects of the war was to end international archeological research into the region. And while we wait to see if the country ever settles so it becomes safe enough to resume such activities, looters continue to steal everything they can, including from archeological sites.

The Museum reported that many of its cuneiform tablets were looted, although some were later recovered. Those tablets contain some of the oldest writing in the world, among them the epic of Gilgamesh (the tablet shown in the image above, is the 11th tablet in the epic, from the library of Ashurbanipal (Assyrian King 669-631 BCE), now in the British Museum).

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April, the cruellest month

Jackie Chan's movie 1911April, wrote T.S. Eliot in his remarkable poem, The Waste Land, is the “cruellest month.”* And not merely because of the inclement and unsettling weather that seems to mix winter with spring in unpredictable doses. Nor for the necessity of filing one’s taxes before month end, always a painful chore.

I started thinking about April while watching the movie, 1911, about the Chinese uprising against the Qing Dynasty, in 1911 (saw it this weekend). Fascinating period of Chinese history that led to the first republic under Sun Yat Sen, but, I wondered, was it so interesting elsewhere? Yes, it seems so.

April is a month rich in history, with memorable events, births and deaths galore. Memorable, however, is not always pleasant, of course.

April comes from the Latin Aprilis, a word of uncertain origin. For those who know the “ides of March” from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, you may be surprised to discover that the ides didn’t always fall on the 15th day of the month. In April, it falls on the 13th. The Roman calendar was a complex thing.

April is the month to remember battles. Just to name a few: Culloden (Apr 16, 1746, when the Jacobite rebellion was broken), Vimy Ridge (9-12, 1917, famous to Canadians, so many of whom died there), Lexington and Concord (Apr 19, 1775, starting the American Revolution), Mollwitz (10 Apr, 1741 – the first battle Frederick II ever fought), Okinawa (began 1 Apr, 1945, the beginning of the end of the WWII in the Pacific), Tobruk (11 Apr-27 Nov, 1941), Berlin (20 Apr- 2 May, 1945, the beginning of the end of WWII in Europe), 2nd Ypres (started 22 Apr, 1915), Fort Sumter (Apr 12–14, 1861, beginning the American Civil War), Shiloh (April 6/7, 1862), Mapiu (5 Apr, 1818 – 1818 – decisive battle of the Chilean War of Independence),  Guernica (Apr 26, 1937 – the town was attacked by German warplanes during the Spanish Civil War; the planes then machine-gunned fleeing civilians), the Falklands (Apr 2, 1982 troops from Argentina invaded and occupied the British colony, beginning the short Falklands War).

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Culloden and the Family Tree, 267 Years Later

It doesn’t begin with Culloden. History is seldom so neat and precise that a single event can be identified as the start or end of a thing. Rather, Culloden was a hinge, a point at which events changed direction, when the door to the past was closed and one to a very different future opened.

You might say it really begins centuries earlier, in the long, bitter wars between England and Scotland that trace their roots to the Norman conquerors. But that’s too vague and longwinded. It would be better to say it the introduction to the story was written at Glencoe, in 1692, when Clan MacDonald was slaughtered by their guests, the Campbells.

“Ye loyal MacDonalds, awaken! awaken!
“Why sleep ye so soundly in face of the foe?
“The clouds pass away, and the morning is breaking;
“But when will awaken the sons of Glen Coe?

“They lay down to rest with their thoughts on the morrow,
“Nor dreamt that life’s visions were -melting like snow;
“But daylight has dawned in the silence of sorrow,
“And ne’er shall awaken the Sons of Glencoe.”
from Lament for Glen Coe by Mary Maxwell Campbell

That event scattered MacDonalds around northern Scotland, and started the slow burn of anger that would erupt in the Jacobite rebellion, 50 years later.

Some of the MacDonalds fled to Glen Urquhart, Inverness-shire, after Glencoe. From there they would leave for the New World almost a century later.

But it all came to a head at Culloden, the final battle of the Jacobite uprising that had begun so well and was now about to end in that rocky, soggy field. And that’s where I’ll begin this tale.

It was a rainy day, April 16, 1746, when the Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charlie faced the English army under the Duke of Cumberland, across the moor at Culloden. On the left wing of the Jacobite Army were three regiments of MacDonalds – of Clanranald, Keppoch and the MacDonnells of Glengarry, all in the Duke of Perth’s division. Clan Donald had almost 1,000 men in the line, of the 7-8,000 in the Jacobite army that day.

Among them were my relatives, MacDonalds (from Clanranald, if I understand the genealogy correctly). I don’t know yet if they were direct ancestors, or outside the direct line. But they were my blood, family members standing in the cold, wet morning, waiting for the English to arrive. Their fate would eventually spin among the threads of mine, centuries later.

Across the field, among the Royal Army that arrived several hours later, was the Manchester Regiment, a group pressed and recruited form the area where my father’s family comes from. There was a Chadwick in their ranks. I don’t know if he was a relative, but it would certainly be a curious footnote in our genealogy if our family lines met there.*

Between the two lines of soldiers was a swamp, a small stream, and the boggy, soft ground of the moor that made it difficult to move rapidly across the gap. That would play out when the battle commenced. That swamp would force the Highlanders to split their line into two to avoid it. It would reduce the speed and power of the frightening Highland charge, too. Low walls surrounding fields hemmed both sides of the battlefield, further constraining the action and provided shelter for a unit of English soldiers who could safely fire on the advancing Scots.

The Highlanders had been up all night, marching towards a surprise night attack, only to be discovered and forced to return. They were discouraged, hungry, wet and tired. Some had drifted away. The rest waited for the battle to begin.

The Royal troops were fresher, but not much: they had marched 10-12 miles since before dawn to be there.

The MacDonalds must have been angry to see Campbells among the English, but their enemies were on the other wing, and could not be directly challenged. They were more attentive to local issues: a spat between Clanranald and the Glengarry MacDonalds had caused many of their soldiers to leave for home instead of marching together. Plus the MacDonalds felt slighted at having been placed on the left wing, rather than the right.

The two armies began roughly equal in size: 7-8,000 depending on your source, but the Highlander Army was already melting away by the time they clashed and may have had as few as 5,000 soldiers left. Their forces were depleted, and morale was low.

The English had more artillery (including some hefty 6-pounders), and cavalry. It also had the advantages of training, supply and consistency: all of its soldiers used the same musket and cartridge. Plus the soldiers had been fed that morning.

Both sides stood in the open for some time, neither side attacking, while the English guns pounded the Scots from a mere 300 yards away. Casualties were mounting among the Highlanders, so Prince Charles decided to attack. He sent word among his troops and most obeyed eagerly, but the centre was forced to veer right to avoid the swamp, causing a confusion of men on the right wing as they obstructed each other in their hurry to cross the gap.

On the left, the MacDonalds hesitated. Their wing was much further from the English than the right, and the ground between them softer. Their progress was slow, preventing a charge, and the English fire cut into them as they approached. Already suffering many casualties from the sustain musket fire, the MacDonalds broke when Cumberland ordered his dragoons to charge their line as it closed the gap. The left wing crumbled.

The Highlanders on the right had crashed into the English line, but couldn’t sustain their attack. Enfilading fire from their right cut into them. The English line didn’t waver. The Highlander charge started to break.

Soon they all retreated, some of the army falling back towards Inverness, while Cumberland’s dragoons pursued them mercilessly and slaughtered many. An estimated 1,000 Jacobites died, compared to perhaps 50 British (with about 300 more wounded).**

Seeing the battle was lost, Charles Edward Stuart made his escape, fleeing, hiding and eventually making his way to the Isle of Skye and from there to France. The Jacobite cause had ended.

Culloden wasn’t the end of the matter. A brutal massacre followed, with much looting and pillaging of property and cattle. Butcher Cumberland gained his nickname then.

The English were determined to break the backs of the clans, to wipe out the family loyalties and drag the Scots into what the English saw as modernity. The army swept through the Highlands after the battle, driving deep into the clan territories, soon followed by bureaucrats. They set up local overseers, changed tax and land laws, and drove the Scots from the land to make room for English nobles to farm or manage.

The Highland Clearances, as they were to be known, radically changed the face of Scotland for the next two generations. Thousands of Scots emigrated to escape the tyranny and the poverty, or were pushed off their land and had little choice but to board a ship bound for the colonies.

In early July, 1773, 27 years after Culloden, an extended family of MacDonalds – their name is spelled McDonald in later records – boarded a small, aging sloop called the Hector, at Ullapool, Loch Broom, on the western shore of Scotland. Passenger lists compiled later showed 189 Scots on board, including 16 McDonalds from Invernesshire. There were 25 single men, 33 families, a piper and their agent aboard:

Although they were not the first Scots to arrive in North America they were the vanguard of a massive wave of Scottish immigrants to arrive in what is now Canada. In the century following the landing of the Hector more than 120 ships brought nearly 20 000 people from Scotland to the port of Pictou. By 1879 more than ninety-three percent of the region’s rural property owners had Scottish names.

Head of the McDonald family on the Hector was Donald McDonald. His wife, Mary, and two children, as well as some nieces and nephews, accompanied him. John (Iain) McDonald was the other adult male McDonald onboard. He may have been the grandson of another John MacDonald, who fled from Glencoe, in 1692. A John MacDonald of that family served in the Jacobite Army under Prince Charles, but the name was common enough.

The two-week voyage instead took two and a half months, arriving in mid-September. Smallpox and dysentery killed 18 of the children on board. Food had run out. As fall approached, the Hector limped into harbour at Pictou, Cape Breton. The dispirited, hungry and seasick passengers looked at the shoreline with a mixture of despair and fear. Winter wasn’t far away and the land they had expected to occupy was still wilderness, with no arable space for crops, and no shelter. The promised free provisions for a year never materialized. It would be a hard winter for all of them.

Both McDonald men would be granted a parcel of land – 350 acres for Donald, 200 for John – along the Middle River, the next year (all of which took many years to clear). And thus the families would live, and survive, in the wilds of Nova Scotia. Others from the Hector would move to Truro or Halifax. Scots would soon arrive on other ships to take their place.

These early McDonalds were my mother’s family (although it’s difficult to trace them back before the 1850s – in 1817 there were 19 Donald McDonalds listed in the Pictou census, but I may be conflating some data). Her grandmother, Lynn McDonald, married another Scottish descendant of a more recent immigrant family, David Dunlop, in the mid-18th century, merging Highland and Lowland lines. From them came my grandmother, Jean, who would marry William Pudney, son of Sidney, an immigrant from Kent, England, who arrived in Canada with his wife about the time David and Lynn married. My own father would arrive inn 1947, from Lancashire.

While I don’t trace my ancestry back to Culloden, directly (as far as I yet know; I may learn more in future), the battle plays an important part in the family history. It was the hinge that set in motion the events – tragic as they were – that would eventually see my Scottish ancestors arrive in Canada, 240 years ago. So on April 16, I will tip a glass of whisky in memory of that day.

 ~~~~~

*  Lieutenant Thomas Chadwick seems to have been a secret Jacobite, or at least was sympathetic to the rebels, and was later executed for it. I have only traced my father’s line back to Richard Chadwick, of Lancashire, b. 1752. Still looking for older records.

** Another historical footnote: James Wolfe was aide-de-camp for General Hawley, who led the cavalry at Culloden. Wolfe’s military career would end in 1759 as his troops were winning the battle to capture Quebec City and take the New World from the French. Canada was a thread being woven into this tale even at Culloden.

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Lost Worlds, Lost Words

Samuel JohnsonMoidered. It sounds like something from the Three Stooges. Or maybe something Tony Soprano would say.”I moidered him.”  But it actually means “crazed,” according to Samuel Johnson in his famous dictionary of 1755. It’s long since left  the stage of English usage.

Scan down another few inches and you’ll find “mome.” No, not “mome, mome on the range” or a reference to Mitt Romney’s bizarre religion. Mome means, “a dull, stupid blockhead” according to Johnson. I can think of a use for that right now. Some words deserve to be resurrected.

Johnson’s wasn’t the first dictionary of English – that honour goes back to The Dictionary of Syr Thomas Eliot Knight, in 1538. That was a Latin-English dictionary. It wasn’t until 1604 that an English-English dictionary was published: Robert Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall. Others followed between Cawdrey and Johnson. Many have been published since. But Johnson’s was the first truly scholarly and standardized dictionary. He backed up his list of almost 43,000 words with 114,000 quotations. It took him nine years to complete it.*

Words come into and go from English like species in Darwin’s evolving, ever-changing universe. It’s fascinating to go back even a half-century to see what we’ve lost, and to wonder what will happen to the everyday words we use today in another generation or two. It’s one of the reasons I delight in finding books and websites dedicated to forgotten words; it’s like a doorway into a lost world.**

Just flipping through the pages of Johnson’s magnificent work, I find a wealth of words that no longer find a place in our modern language and yet they are so delightful I want to find a use for them in my conversations:

  • Amatorculist
  • Amaritude
  • Bibacious
  • Consopiation
  • Enubilate
  • Flexanimous
  • Pauciloquy
  • Ruricolist
  • Runnion
  • Tremulent
  • Welkin

and many, many more. Of the above, only welkin appears in my recent edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. It’s the only one I recognized from that list. I’ll leave it up to you to learn about them and uncover their meaning.

I’d love to be able to write about the consopiation of viewers watching council on TV.

None of these terms appear in either of Jeffrey Kacirk’s two books on forgotten words (Forgotten English and The Word Museum). I have not yet checked Erin McKean’s two-volumes, however (Weird and Wonderful Words and Totally Weird and Wonderful Words) or some of the other, similar books in my library (like Shakespeare’s Words, which is also fun to peruse, although limited to that period and place in English literature and history).

The COED has its share of words that are either uncommon in modern use or are regional terms seldom heard here in Canada. These include (gathered in under 10 minutes of browsing last night):

  • Boffin
  • Bootblack
  • Flibbertigibbet
  • Lucubrate
  • Noddle
  • Offing
  • Puncheon
  • Quidnunc
  • Socage
  • Younker

I actually know most of them, although predominantly from my reading older works rather than from conversation; I doubt any of them are destined to remain in modern dictionaries for much longer. How many people speak of “in the offing” these days? Or call room service for a “bootblack” at a hotel? But flibbertigibbet still deserves to hang around and might find its way into some future blog commentary about local events.

There are many sites about lost words aside from Kacirk’s (linked above): for a sampling, read 20 obsolete words that deserve to make a comeback for a few, or favourite forgotten words, 20 forgotten words,  30 words, and difficult words (not so much forgotten, but it contains many words not in common use). And then, once your appetite is whetted, Google for more. Or get your own copy of Johnson and dive in.

 ~~~~~

* Reading Johnson’s dictionary today is both a delight and a challenge. He was prone to mix his own comments and apply his wit to his definitions, and to sometimes guess at etymologies (often wildly). That makes it an entertaining read. However, in the original, it’s a bit of a slog for modern readers: the typography is antiquated, with ligatures not common in today’s typesetting, and it uses the extended s that looks like an f (so fishing looks like fifhing and song becomes fong,  which always made reading Izaac Walton in the original tough going).

You can download the original in PDF format at archive.org and work through the 2,300 pages onscreen (remember to download both volumes), or you can purchase a reprint (about $60 for both volumes) from Amazon. I suggest one of the modern abridgments. I like Jack Lynch’s 640-page version, but at 3,100 definitions it has a mere tenth of Johnson’s original work. Lynch’s notes and introduction are, however, invaluable.

** You should also try reading Chaucer in his original, Middle English. It’s a challenge, but for anyone interested in language, it’s also a voyage of discovery. A glossary is necessary, however.

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The sinking of the St. Croix, September, 1943

St. CroixOn this day, September 20, in 1943, the Royal Canadian Navy destroyer, St. Croix, was escorting a convoy and protecting its ships from U-boats, during WWII. The ship was between Greenland and Iceland at 57.30N, 31.10W. It carried almost 150 crew, including a young man named William (Billie) Sydney David Pudney, aged 22, listed as a signalman (V 27871 (RCNVR)).

St. Croix with storm damageThe St. Croix was a bit past her prime; the 1,190-ton destroyer had been built for the US Navy in 1919 (then called the USS McCook), but given to Britain for the Royal Canadian Navy in September, 1940. In September, 1943, she was under the command of A/Lt.Cdr. Andrew Hedley Dobson, RCNR, her third commander since the ship was assigned to the Canadian Navy.

Billie’s picture is on the wall of my mother’s nursing home room; a young man in a sailor’s cap looking bright eyed and jaunty. He must have been feeling pretty confident on that day in 1943: in July, 1942, his destroyer, the St. Croix, had sunk the German submarine, U-90, and then again in March, 1943, while escorting convoy KMS-10, St Croix and the corvette, HMCS Shediac, depth charged and sank U-87.

By mid-1943, the tide of war had turned to the Allies’ favour: Germans were being pushed out of North Africa and out of Russia. The massive tank battle at Kursk, in the summer of 1943 broke the German armoured might, and was followed by the Soviets retaking Kiev and Smolensk, in September. Allied troops took Sicily, invaded Italy and even briefly captured its leader, Benito Mussolini, forcing Italy to surrender, also in September. Allied bombers were pounding German cities.

Air support for convoys in 1943 had greatly reduced U-boat tolls in the North Atlantic. Allied command felt confident it had overcome the threat, so during the summer it decided to withdraw many of the escorting ships for other duties.

St. CroixBillie probably felt the Allies were close to winning the war. We know now that it was far from over: two more years of fighting was still to come. The Germans, although under stress and losing ground, were not beaten yet.

The German Navy launched a new U-boat offensive in the fall of 1943. A patrol group of 21 U-boats, code-named Leuthen, was dispatched by Admiral Donitz’s U-boat Control (Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote, BdU) to renew the attack on the North Atlantic convoy route. The Wolf Pack formed a patrol line south of Greenland in the “Greenland Air Gap,” where Allied aircraft had been unable to operate previously, due to the extreme range from their bases.

The fall offensive began with an attack on convoys ONS-18 and ON-202. Wikipedia notes:

On 12 September 1943 convoy ONS 18 left Liverpool bound for Halifax. Composed of 27 ships it was protected by B-3 Escort Group, comprising 2 destroyers, Escapade and Keppel, ( Cdr MB Evans RN, the Senior Officer:Escort); the frigate Towey, and 5 corvettes; Narcissus, Orchis, Roselys, Lobelia and Renoncule. ONS-18 was also accompanied by the MAC carrier Empire MacAlpine. When Western Approaches Command became aware of Leuthen, it was decided to reinforce ONS 18; the following convoy, ON 202 was ordered to close up, and a support group, SG 9, sent to join.
ON 202 had left Liverpool on 15 September, composed of 38 ships and escorted by Canadian escort group C-2, comprising 2 destroyers, Gatineau (commanded by Lt.Cdr PW Burnett RN, SOE) and Icarus; the frigate Lagan, and 3 corvettes; Drumheller, Kamloops and Polyanthus.
Support Group 9 comprised destroyer St Croix, frigate Itchen (Cdr CE Bridgman RN, SOE) and 3 corvettes, Chambly, Morden and Sackville.
Altogether the 65 ships were escorted by 19 warships, to face an attack from 21 U-boats.

Beside her record of hits on U-boats, the St. Croix had picked up many survivors of other attacks on convoys she was assigned to protect: 34 in 1941, 18 in 1942 and 28 in 1943. In the three years she had protected convoys, the St. Croix had avoided being hit herself. That would soon change. As Wikipedia notes:

On 16 September, St. Croix, then on her first patrol with an offensive striking group in the Bay of Biscay, went to the aid of convoy ONS 18, followed by ON 202, both heavily beset by a wolfpack. The defense of these convoys resulted in a long-running battle with losses to both sides. The convoys lost three escorts and six merchantmen, with two escorts damaged. The wolfpack lost three U-boats.

ONS-18 was the first target. A transport, the Lagan, was hit by a torpedo on Sept. 19, but the attacking U-boats were chased away, and one damaged. To the Germans’ surprise and distress, Allies did have air support in the Gap: Very Long Range (VLR) Liberators (bombers) had been developed and put into action earlier that summer to provide much-needed air support. U-341 was attacked and sunk by a Liberator from 10 Squadron RCAF. But the other U-boats continued to close in, regardless. By the 20/21, a dozen U-boats were in visual range, and eight were able to attack the Allied ships of the combined convoys (ONS-18 and ON-202).

Toronto Star, Sept. 1943The St. Croix’s luck didn’t hold out for very long. She was hit in the stern by a torpedo fired by the German submarine, U-305, on 20 September, 1943, at 9:51 p.m. It was one of five ships hit by torpedoes that night.

The Wolf Pack hunting the convoy would sink ten of the convoy’s ships, and damage two others, over three days of attacks. This would be the second worst loss of any single convoy since 1941.

Forty five minutes after the first torpedo hit, the St. Croix was still limping along. The U-305 returned and fired a second torpedo, this time a T-3, at the St. Croix. It hit. The St. Croix sank in six minutes.

Eighty one of the crew – five officers and 76 men – survived. They spent the night on two rafts and a half sunken whaler. The British frigate, the HMS Itchen tried to rescue them after the St. Croix sank, but U-boats drove her off. HMS Polyanthus tried to screen the Itchen during rescue operations, but she too was sunk (by U-952 on 21 September).

The cold, wet survivors were picked up by the Itchen, on the following morning. The Itchen also had been attacked by U-305 that same night, but the torpedo missed its mark. But this wasn’t the worst of it.

Three days later, the Itchen too was sunk by a German submarine (U-666). A single torpedo hit the frigate and she exploded. She had a complement of 230 officers and men, plus 81 survivors of the St. Croix, and one from HMS Polyanthus. Only two men survived that hit: one from the Itchen, and a stoker from the St. Croix.

One hundred and forty six men who had sailed aboard the St. Croix lost their lives in September, 1943. Some surely must have been counting their blessings aboard the Itchen after they had been lifted from the rough North Atlantic waters.

Allied losses were 3 escorts and 6 ships sunken, plus one escort and one ship damaged. Three U-boats were destroyed and a further three damaged and forced to return to base. Wiipedia tells us:

On 23 September the convoys reached the Grand Banks area, where fog hindered visibility both of the air patrols and the attacking Leuthen boats. U-238 was able to penetrate the escort screen and sank 3 ships; Skjelbred, Oregon Express, and Fort Jemseg. U-666 torpedoed Itchen; she sank, leaving just 3 survivors from her own crew and those of Polyanthus and St Croix she was carrying. U-952 sank Steel Voyager and damaged James Gordon Bennett. U-758 attacked, but had no hits confirmed and was herself damaged by a depth-charge attack.
Poor visibility, fuel shortages, and fatigue now beset both U-boats and escorts, but BdU, believing the attack to have been a great success, ordered Leuthen to break off the attack.
Claims by the various boat amounted to 12 escorts and 9 ships sunk, and a further 2 ships damaged.

Safe from further attacks, both convoys continued to their destinations. ONS-18 reached Halifax on 29 September, where my mother was based as a WREN. ON 202 carried on and arrived at New York on 1 October.

Billie, the uncle I never met, died in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, 69 years year ago, one of the first victims of the newly developed German acoustic torpedo, the GNAT, designed to home in on and disable the escorts so the U-boats could reach the merchantmen. I’ve never been able to find out if he was among the survivors picked up by the Itchen or if he died after the St. Croix sank.

U-305 would continue to hunt Allied ships until January 16, 1944, when it sank, probably a victim of one of its own torpedoes, and all hands were lost. In its career, it sank two transport ships and two warships. After the September battle, the Leuthen Wolfpack was disbanded; 12 of its U-boats formed a new patrol line with 9 other U-boats to attack the next set of east-bound convoys.

World War II would rage on for almost two full years more, ending in May 1945 in Europe, but not until August, 1945 in Japan. Many, many more lives would be lost in the fighting. Although the battle for the Atlantic would not end until 1945, the German command called off its 1943 U-boat offensive after four months. During that time, eight ships of 56,000 tons and six warships had been sunk, but Allies had sunk 39 U-boats. It was a catastrophic loss for the Germans.

But Billie would never live to see the end. He was 22 when his ship sank; a young man, full of hope, full of ambition, whose life was interrupted and ended by the war. On this day, every year, my mother, 93, and her family, still remembers him and the life he gave or his country.

The RCNA prayer:
As we stand here safe and free,
We wonder why ’twas meant to be
That men should die for you and me.
On all the oceans, white caps flow.
They don’t have crosses row on row.
But they who sleep beneath the sea,
Rest in peace, ’cause we are free.

Sources:

  • http://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?15789
  • http://uboat.net/allies/merchants/ship.html?shipID=3079
  • http://uboat.net/allies/warships/ship/100.html
  • http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/252.htm
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_McCook_(DD-252)
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Town_class_destroyer
  • http://www.junobeach.org/e/4/can-tac-des-e.htm
  • http://www.noac-national.ca/article/Dunlop/The_Sinking_of_U90.html
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convoys_ONS_18/ON_202
  • http://www.convoyweb.org.uk/ons/index.html?ons.php?convoy=18!~onsmain
  • http://www.warsailors.com/convoys/on202.html
  • http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/navy/print_description-e.aspx?source=explore&section=2-E-2-e&h_number=4-A-5-k&img_file=e-19800567-001_p9
  • http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/navy/objects_photos_search-e.aspx?section=4-E&id=47&page=1
  • http://canadasnavalmemorial.ca/about-the-ship/the-ship%E2%80%99s-story/
  • http://www.readyayeready.com/ships/shipview.php?id=1394
  • http://uboat.net/allies/merchants/crews/ship3070.html
  • http://uboat.net/allies/merchants/crews/person/7245.html
  • http://www.naval-history.net/xDKCas2510-RCN.htm
  • http://www.naval-museum.mb.ca/battle_atlantic/st.croix/ottawa%20list%20146.pdf
  • http://members.shaw.ca/jollytar/WW2%20Ship%20Losses/St.%20Croix.htm

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The Oldest Art: 40,800 Years Ago

Paleolithic paintings in El Castillo cave in Northern Spain date back at least 40,800 years — making them Europe’s oldest known cave art, according to new research published June 14 in Science.

Science Daily photoThat’s the lead to a fascinating story about the origins of art. Cave art seems to have been practiced 10,000 years earlier than previously thought. That age could make the artists either the first modern humans or even Neanderthals. That latter possibility is pretty exciting.

We know from burials found in the Middle East that Neanderthal people practiced ritual burial and made musical instruments. This find suggests that may have been artists, too. An earlier story in Science Daily from 2010 noted that Neanderthals have been found to be much more advanced than previously thought.

When I was growing up, Neanderthals were imagined as heavy, stupid, slow and brutish. Now we know they had art, music and burial rituals that suggest religion, and were a lot more sophisticated than we first imagined. A cave full of bear skulls found in Europe dated from that time, suggests they had animistic worship. Which raises the question: is religion, like language, hardwired in humans?

Dr Pike said: “Evidence for modern humans in Northern Spain dates back to 41,500 years ago, and before them were Neanderthals. Our results show that either modern humans arrived with painting already part of their cultural activity or it developed very shortly after, perhaps in response to competition with Neanderthals — or perhaps the art is Neanderthal art.”

Art is part of what defines us as human. Knowing the Neanderthals made art helps us identify them as human, not just some type of hairless ape, or brutally primitive human as they were seen when I was young. While it’s often debated, I side with the scientists who believe that Neanderthals interacted with early humans, and probably mated with them. Many of us carry some Neanderthal DNA in our genes. Maybe that’s the part of us that creates art and music. Maybe that’s the legacy they left us. It would be interesting to research whether that DNA is present in artists and musicians, .

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A Delightful Farce Called Anonymous

AnonymousWatched a delightful, satirical farce last night, called Anonymous. It’s a spoof about the conspiracy theory that the Earl of Oxford (Edward de Vere) wrote the works of William Shakespeare.

This conspiracy notion has a pop following, but lacks significant scholarly and any historical support. Like other conspiracy theories, it has gained ground on the Internet from the simple fact that most people are naturally superstitious and suspicious, and would rather not apply critical thinking or do any serious research to prove or disprove outlandish claims.

As theories go, de Vere-as-Shakespeare is up there with the Elvis-is-still-alive, JFK-survived-the-Dallas-shooting or the-American-government-was-behind-the-9/11-attacks. Even a movie that attempted to treat it seriously would have to stretch the facts beyond reasonable belief.

Anonymous is to the de Vere theory what Jim Carey is to acting: an over-the-top, madcap, histrionic and sometimes painfully exaggerated performance. It weaves together a series of improbable events, relationships and characters so intricately that it almost collapses from its own excessiveness. Only the superb acting and sets make it hold together. However, even a casual knowledge of the history of the era, or of Shakespeare’s life, pulls the whole tale into tatters. You can’t even begin to take it seriously. But the silliness is part of the fun.

Anonymous is from director Roland Emmerich, who also directed the rather thin spoof on prehistory, 10,000 BC, which I commented on previously. The script was written by John Orloff, previously known as the author of the brilliant, Oscar-deserving documentary, “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.” Combined, the two make a potent force in satiric film making.

Historically, however, it’s a mess. Start with the fire in the theatre, early in the movie. It wasn’t the Globe. That theatre burned down during a performance of Shakespeare’s play, Henry VIII, in 1613, when fireworks hit the thatch and roof beams. The movie has a theatre being burned down by Robert Cecil’s men as they hunt the playwright Ben Jonson, hiding under the stage.

The theatre might be the Rose, but there is no indication from modern excavations that it burned down. It was used by theatre companies until at least 1604, and was apparently pulled down in 1606.

The film then jumps back in time five years to show Elizabeth I’s court… but that would make it 1608 if this was the Globe, five years after she died. But the year we go back to is actually 1598. No London theatres burned down in 1603.

The movie suggests Shakespeare was an illiterate, womanizing, greedy drunkard – he could read, but bizarrely could not write. But that would be very unlikely in the Elizabethan era schools which Shakespeare attended. This characterization is based on imagination, not any historical source. Shakespeare’s signature exists on several documents and many scholars believe the fragments of the play about Thomas Moore contain notes in his hand.

The Earl of Oxford is portrayed as a brilliant writer who has to keep his talent secret – well, it’s an open secret, since just about everybody in the court seems to know about his writing, including the Queen. That he was a writer is true – he was a respected albeit rather ordinary poet and playwright in his day, and a patron of the theatre as well.

There is nothing to indicate any social stigma attached to his or any other noble’s writing. Some of his poems survive today, although none of his plays seem to have. And as for being a well-educated man, his degrees from Oxford and Cambridge were honorary degrees, the sort handed out in great numbers to royal attendants by Elizabeth when she visited those institutions.

Elizabeth herself wrote poetry, as did Sir Edward Dyer, Sir John Harrington, Sir Philip Sidney, and others – including Raleigh, Grenville, Robert Sidney, and Essex. So why being a poet and a playwright in a literary and cultured court that fancied such artistic achievements would be taboo is never explained. Plus, there is not a single word in all the documentation from the era, that connects de Vere with even one of the plays he supposedly wrote. Yet Shakespeare is mentioned in documents in association with his writing years before the movie makes him pretend to be author (as early as 1592).

As a young man in the film, de Vere has an affair with the sexually active and promiscuous Elizabeth and fathers what seems to be one of a litter of bastard children with her. But later in the film, we learn de Vere was actually himself one of Elizabeth’s bastard kids, her eldest. Messy. But of course there is no historical evidence that de Vere nor any other courtier bedded Elizabeth, let alone that she had illegitimate children from the union.

When we learn de Vere allegedly fathered a son on his mother, Elizabeth, this is the movie’s “jump the shark” moment. It’s a groaner for sure, and you wonder if the author needed to go so far to ridicule the de Vere theorists.

Christopher Marlowe is found murdered in an alley in the movie. Oops, that event happened five years earlier, in another location and another wound. From Wikipedia:

The death of Christopher Marlowe plays a small but significant role in the storyline. Marlowe is portrayed alive in 1598, while in fact he died in 1593. The slashing of Marlowe’s throat occurs in Southwark with Shakespeare as his suggested murderer, whereas Marlowe was killed by Ingram Frizer with a knife stab above the left eye, in Deptford. Marlowe is shown mocking Dekker’s Shoemaker’s Holiday in 1598, although it wasn’t written until the following year. Marlowe dies on the same day Essex departs for Ireland. These events actually happened 6 years apart. Another writer shown to be alive after his death is Thomas Nashe, who appears in a scene set after 1601. He is known to have died by that year, though the exact date is uncertain.

It’s just one of those scenes that underscore the film’s satirical nature. The writer makes so many glaring historical errors merely to mock the Oxfordians who probably can’t see they are being teased.

A high point in the film’s action comes when Essex (apparently another of Elizabeth’s bastards) returns from Ireland to try to save his reputation, then tries to lead an armed rebellion in 1601, with only a handful of men. Anonymous doesn’t bother to tell you Essex was placed under house arrest for a full year after returning from Ireland, and his anger was sparked not by some injustice of Robert Cecil, but by the queen not renewing his licence to collect taxes on sweet wine, which hurt his income. Even then, it took months of brooding for him to spur himself to act.

What the film also doesn’t tell you is that Essex took several members of the Privy Council captive and held them as hostages. He then took 300 armed men into London. The citizens did not rally to support his cause, and there was no army shooting unarmed civilians as shown in the film. When Essex found the gates into the city locked, he fled ignominiously, abandoning his followers, and headed home to burn any incriminating documents. He was captured at his house.

Essex also went to trial – he wasn’t beheaded right away, as the film suggests.

In the film, de Vere saves his bastard son with Elizabeth, Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, who had been captured among Essex’s men and sentenced to death. Actually it was Robert Cecil who had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. He was released three years later, by James I, who restored him to honour and a court position.

In Anonymous, Shakespeare’s stage troop are hired by de Vere’s men to perform the play, Richard III, which is used to stir the audience into mob action in support of Essex (the detested Richard III appears as a hunchback in Shakespeare’s play – without any historical proof – and Robert Cecil was also a hunchback). It was actually Southampton who hired the players at the Globe Theatre to revive Richard II, not Richard III.

Elizabeth’s funeral procession is shown walking along the frozen Thames. Not so: it took place on land because the Thames did not freeze that winter.

Elizabeth, both young and old, and the older de Vere are all powerfully played. The two Cecils, are also well portrayed, although the younger Robert in particular comes across as more Machiavellian than history shows him to be.

Shakespeare, Johnson, Marlowe and the other playwrights are less convincing as artists than as con men. As one might expect, only de Vere gets any recognition for talent; the others are all hacks at best, frauds at worst.

The nobles who are trying to save England from the imposition of a foreign ruler (James VI of Scotland) are all blonde; those looking to put James on the throne (the Cecils) are dark-haired.

de Vere is shown watching a performance of Macbeth on stage – but the play was likely never staged in his lifetime (some scholars argue for a first performance date of 1605).

All in all, Anonymous is a historical and dramatic failure, but it’s a wonderful period-piece farce, flitting somewhere between swashbuckling and slapstick. It’s absurd, wildly fanciful and at times downright silly, but the masterful English cast, the stunningly well-created sets and the action-style pacing keep you glued to the TV. Watch it for the sheer fun of seeing the Oxfordians and their wacky theories lampooned so thoroughly.

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Horwath needs to read her Machiavelli

Andrea HorwathAndrea Horwath needs to do some more reading before she decides to negotiate further with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. Specifically, she needs to read more Machiavelli. The Prince, in particular.

This week the Globe & Mail reported that Horwath announced that, “…NDP Leader Andrea Horwath (is) now abandoning another major proposal in return for her party’s support of the governing Liberals’ budget, it will be easier for the two sides to strike a deal.”

Her “proposal” – actually a demand in exchange for the NDP’s support of the Liberal budget – was to remove the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax from home heating bills. Her plan would have given tax relief to millions of Ontario homeowners.

Instead, she chose to drop that demand and decided to push for the government to tax the rich more.

Wrong, wrong, wrong strategy. The rich are few. The people are many. Horwath has not read her Machiavelli otherwise she would have chosen differently. She chose to abandon her strength (the people) while attacking those few (the rich) who are not her supporters anyway. Bad choice. Start the countdown to the NDP leadership review…

In Chapter IX of The Prince, Machiavelli wrote what Horwath should be reading:

“…a prince can never protect himself from a hostile people, because there are too many of them. But he can secure himself from the nobles, as they are few in number.”

McGuinty will balk, because the Liberal party (as well as the Conservative party) get much of their financial support from the upper-middle to upper class. The NDP, however, get their financial backing from unions, and working class families, who are the majority of voters. The working class families will be hurt by the HST on fuel bills, but not helped at all by the tax on the rich.

McGuinty doesn’t want to tax the rich, probably because he HAS read Machiavelli, who wrote:

“The worst that a prince may expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned by them; but from hostile nobles he has not only to fear abandonment, but also that they will rise against him. The nobles have more foresight and cunning. They always act in time to save themselves, and to seek favours from him whom they expect to win.”

Working poorEven if the rich are taxed more, they won’t care because it’s a temporary annoyance. The NDP will never get into power, so the rich will back the party that promises to repeal those extra taxes next election – and odds are McGuinty will promise that next campaign if he is forced to concede that demand to Horwarth to save his rule.

McGuinty surely realizes that the worst he can lose is an election. But if he saves his backers, he will still have a chance to rise again with their funding. Horwath doesn’t get it. Pushing for a new tax bracket for the super rich doesn’t matter to the public except as a token gesture. It doesn’t help the average homeowner, the working stiff, the seniors and those people struggling on a small fixed income.

The NDP had the power to gain a significant concession from the minority Liberals and bend the budget to their alleged goals as the party of the working class. Plus a chance to win huge accolades and public affection. Instead, Horwath dropped the ball and has left the Liberals to continue to pummel working class taxpayers.

Damn. Who will stand up for us now the NDP have betrayed the working class? My recommendation for NDP supporters: deduct the amount of the provincial portion of the HST on your home heating bills from any future donation you make to the party. That will send an unmistakeable message to the NDP’s leaders who chose to pursue this strategy.

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