11 October 2013

Time for Calendars

The Japanese ambassador to Pope Gregory XIII thanks him for his calendaric innovations.

Good day, regular, first-time, or begrudging readers. In commemoration of the recent Fall or Autumn Equinox, I bring you some interesting minutia on our favorite time-tracking device, the calendar! The word "calendar" comes from kalendae, which means "first day o' the month" in Latin. 

Perhaps you have heard of the Gregorian calendar? Maybe you are even familiar with its machinations. It was developed as a chanted time-keeping system in Italian monasteries during the fifteenth century, under the auspices of Papa Gregorio XIII. There are twelve months, or, one for each Apostle. Each month was allotted thirty, thirty-one, twenty-eight, or twenty-nine days, according to the whim of His Holiness. Gregory developed a helpful mnemonic for his monastics to help make sense of this confusing system: "Dierum triginta habere September ..."

Confused sixteenth-century peasants debate the merits of the new Gregorian calendar.

Calendario Gregorio replaced the Julian calendar, personally designed by "July" Caesar to record his conquests and best name months himself. Developed post-Reformation, the Gregorian calendar was instantaneously adopted by Faithful Papist Countries, like Spain, Portugal, the Papal States, and that old warhorse, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Other states took longer to come around to this crazy new time-marker. Most Protestant nations, like the Netherlands and Denmark, feared that the calendar reform was an insidious Popish plot meant to draw them back to Mother Rome. (Which it was.) Most of Western Europe, except Britain, had come around by 1700, however. 

Yes, the Island Race was as hesitant to adopt this Continental calendarical barminess and forsake the beloved Julian calendar as they are to adopt the Euro and scrap the ailing Pound Sterling. Britons hemmed and hawed until 1752, when a reluctant George II deigned to adopt the calendar used in his Hanoverian homeland since the turn of the eighteenth century. 

"Give us our eleven days!":
Pandemonium broke out in Britain in 1752 for a fortnight but three because of the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. Unfortunately for the protesters, the changeover erased those very days from the annals of recorded time, and the souls of these poor wretches have been lost to history. (Painting by William Hogarth)

The Glorious Fatherland Russian Empire, also known as Russia, loved their Julian calendar as much as they loved samovars and feudal slavery. By 1900, the Rus peoples had refused to adopt this new and radical calendar for centuries. It took a Julian-calendar-named revolution, the (Hunt for Red) October Revolution (which actually began on November 7th Gregorian) to usher in the new time-marker.

Even this capitalist bourgeois cat knows it is time to abandon the decadent Julian calendar. But first, fire up the samovar! (Painting by Boris Kustodiev, 1918)

*     *     *

But enough about this real calendar that everyone actually uses, what about Obscure and Antiquated Calendar Systems? Well, here are a few in all their inscrutable and exotic glory:

The Golden Hat calendar (shown below) was worn by Bronze Age (c. 1200-800 BCE) Germanic wizards to conjure accurate timekeeping systems for their amazed subjects. The bands and raised dots, among other ornaments, inspired these temporal whizzes to predict the right time to plant and reap their crops within their fifty-seven month calendar year. Also, they were damnably heavy.

The Positivist calender was a reform of the Gregorian calendar proposed in 1849 by French philosopher and proto-sociologist Isidore-Auguste-Marie-Francois-Xavier "IAMFX" Comte. The calendar was thought up by the so-called "bad Comte," who was, according to child supergenius, imperialist, and penpal John Stuart Mill, the evil counterpart to the "good Comte," inspiring friend R. L. Stevenson to write his famous novel-for-lads, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. 

The calendar had thirteen months of twenty-eight days, with a festival day, "Dia de los Muertos," added to bring the total to 365. Every day, week, and month was named after Famous Dead White Dudes, including the months of Aristotle, Shakespeare, Dante, and Moses. Perplexing why this didn't spread like wildfire, as his Religion of Humanity did.

An earlier French stab at calendar-re-imagination was much more sensible. The French Republican Calendar, used from 1793-1805, consisted of twelve months divided into three ten-day weeks, or décades. The tenth day of each week was the new Sabbath of Reason. The leftover days needed to approximate the solar year were herded at the end of each year, during which a raging Liberty Party was caused to be thrown. 

Each day was furthermore divided into ten hours, each hour into 100 decimal minutes, and each decimal minute into 100 decimal seconds. This metric time was not widely embraced, however, as Le Metre, Le Gram, and other dumb metric junk they tried to make us learn in grade school was. The months had wonderfully quaint seasonal names (not useful in tropical climes, it would seem), like "Grape Harvest," "Fog," and "Summer Heat." Days, formerly named after saints, were now called agricultural things like: "Potato"; "Wine Press"; "Shovel"; and "Pig."

A "Republican Clock," complete with funny French Revolution hat, cannon, and Tricolor.

The Old Icelandic lunar calendar, which evolved from the Viking calendar, was divided into twelve months of two six-month "seasons": "Short Days" and "Nightless Days" (also not useful in the Tropics). Each month began on the same day of the week. Months had evocative names like "Fat-Sucking Month" and "Hay Business Month." This calendar was used from the ninth century until 1945 (maybe).

The Althing(s to Allmen), the Icelandic parliament, meeting, as usual, on a seaside cliff, discusses the implementation of the Gregorian calendar after Iceland's rediscovery by Norway in 1905.

But what about other, non-European calendars, you Eurocentric old white dude? Let's take the Wayback Machine all the way back to Ancient Babylonia (around 4,500 years ago). The Babylonian calendar is a lunar one, with twelve months of twenty-nine or thirty days, with an extra month inserted as needed, at the discretion of dudes like Gilgamesh d'Ur, Sargon von Akkad, Hammurabi the Coder, and Nimrod, when he wasn't out hunting.

Perhaps you will be familiar with the Babylonian seven-day week, with the ultimate day called an "evil-day," during which one was encouraged to pray to Ishtar, Marduck, and their lot, while refraining from unholy activities. On this day, commoners, for example, were not allowed to "make a wish," an activity they resumed in great earnest the following day, "Blue Moonday." The final day of the month was a day of rest from all that Cuneiforming and infant-sacrificing and hanging-gardening. These days began at sunset, or, rather, moonrise. Adolescents apprenticed in the craft moonspotting were stationed at every convenient ziggurat to proclaim the dawn of the new day.

Fun fact: because of the Jewish Babylonian exile, it is the basis for the Hebrew calendar that is still in use. The months, many originally named after Babylonian deities, were kept in altered form for the Hebrew calender.

At the apex of the ziggurat, apprentice, journeyman, and master moon-spotters awaited the dawn of a new day. They were perplexed and disappointed every 29.53 days. :(

*    *    *
Well, I'm afraid that's all the time we have here at the Cabinet. I hope to return within a fortnight to bring you fresh curiosities and novel oddities for your electronic-reading pleasure.

02 March 2013

France Antarctique: France's Failed Brazilian Colony

Map of South America, 1575, from Thévet, 
with France Antarctique highlighted for your convenience!
(Whoa, ship, watch out for that bonfire smoke blowing in from Antarctica!)

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics fast approaching, Your Humble Wordsmith thinks it high time for a Rio de Janeiro (pseudo-) history lesson. Yes, that Rio, home of great mountains mined for sugar, one-name soccer stars, Duran Duran hits, girls from Ipanema, and critically-acclaimed slum drug wars. 

Perhaps you also know the land of Brazil to be a Portuguese-speaking nation and giant former colony of Portugal (1500-1815). But one of the first European settlements in Brazil, indeed one located where the modern city of RDJ thrives, was a French colony, France Antarctique, or, "Antarctic France"!*


Antartique-booster King Henri II (L) and colonial impresario Villegagnon (R)

In the sixteenth century ("the 1500s"), France was burgeoning European power but was a nation riven with Reformation-caused religious wars, pitting Catholiques ("Papists") against Huguenots ("Heretics").  Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon (1510-71), a naval officer, sympathized with the Huguenots, and desired to find them a colonial refuge far from France. He enlisted the support of French king Henri ("Henry") II, noted burner of Protestants, who wanted to dump the Huguenots on another continent, and several Huguenot-leaning aristocrats, to bankroll the enterprise. 

Sailing with two ships and 600 probably desperate and largely Protestant colonists in November 1555, Villegagnon made for Guanabara Bay in Brazil. According to historian Francis Parkman, there were also "young nobles, restless, idle, and poor, with reckless artisans and piratical Norman and Breton sailors" among the ranks. Which is to say, a couple of ships full of dudes.

Location of the French settlement in modern-day Rio de Janeiro. 
[Photograph by the author.]

Their destination was a bit problematic. The Pope had divided the non-European world between Spain and Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Also, a Portuguese fleet under Pedro Álvares Cabral had literally run into Brazil, probably by accident, in 1500 on its way to Africa and the East Indies. Portugal had established settlements, São Vicente, by the 1530s. But the French had been clandestinely raiding the coast for years to harvest the lucrative native Pau-brasil, or Brazilwood (not to be confused with Brazil nuts!), using its red wood for textile dyes back in France. Where else would famed musketeer-menace Cardinal Richelieu get his signature threads

After landing and immediately celebrating mass (see above), the settlers chose an island, called Serigipe by the local Indians, to stake their claim. Here they built a fort they named Fort Coligny, after famous Huguenot and colony-bankroller Admiral Gaspard "Sounds Like 'Colony'" de Coligny. The fort was your run-of-the-mill wood-pike and earthwork model (see Jamestown, Virginia). They planned a more permanent settlement on the nearby mainland, which Villegagnon christened "Henriville" after their Protestant-loathing patron, Le Roy. (Unfortunately, some people called the native inhabitants already lived there.)

A rather less accurate depiction of Guanabara Bay, from 1555.

Villegagnon made an alliance with the local Tupi Indians against the Portuguese. Too bad Our Dear Leader Villeganon treated his colonists like dirt, flogging and starving them at his whim. He soon had a change of religious heart, as many Frenchmen did in those days, and went back to Catholicism, problematic in a majority-Protestant settlement.

An additional three ships with 300 virgin colonists (including at least five women and a nun!) arrived two years later, in 1557. Among them were some pretty zealous Huguenot Calvinist priests, with which Villegagnon had a rather messy falling out. He eventually banished them, first to the mainland, then to France, and they sailed back to Europe without any food or supplies. Villegagon, the new Catholic, was fed up and went back to France soon afterward, but not before he flogged and exiled several more colonists.

A Brazilwood tree, probably the real reason for French colonization,
in modern-day Henriville Rio de Janeiro.

By 1560, the Portuguese had realized the French were hanging out in their colony, and the fact that they were Protestant French probably made them even more angry. They assembled a fleet of twenty-six warships to reclaim Guanabara Bay and kick out the Huguenots. After three days, the Portuguese, led my the new governor of Brazil, the wonderfully-named Mem de Sá, had destroyed the fort but failed to exterminate the colonists, who, with the help of their Tupi allies, had escaped to the mainland. Mem's nephew, Estácio de  Sá, founded Rio de Janeiro nearby in 1565, but the French settlers continued to awkwardly hang around until 1567, when Estácio and the Portuguese finally drove them out (probably they intermarried with the natives or were just all murdered). And so the dream of "France Down Under" came to an end.

"Geneva in the Wildnerness," as John Calvin liked to call it.
The Ile-de-Villegagnon, 1560, being attacked by Mem and his fleet.

But FA had caused a continued French fascination with things Brazil. (There would be another failed colonization attempt in the 1610s, the similarly-named France Equinoxiale.) The failed experiment also spawned several accounts of the settlement, its flora and fauna, and its native inhabitants. 

Among the first gaggle of Protestant colonists was the Franciscan priest André Thévet (1516-90), acting as the Father Mulcahy of Villegagnon's fleet. He wrote up his observations on Brazil's natural history and peoples in his book The Singularities of Antarctic France (1558). He was the first guy in France to write up observations of native plants like pineapples and tobacco. Another colonist, the Huguenot minister Jean de Léry (1536-1613), wrote up his experiences in History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, Also Called America (1578)

Both of these accounts were lavishly illustrated, and several are reproduced below:


André Thévet (R), well-known tiny-globe-collector and Brazilophile,
and Jean de Léry's 1578 Brazilian travelogue (R).

A demon-eyed toucan, known for attacking French colonists with its murderous beak.
Perhaps the inspiration for this high-spirited cartoon movie film! (From Thévet)

Brazilian natives regularly invited their new neighbors to weekend backyard barbecues. 
(From Thévet)

Natives harvest cashew fruits (top) to produce large pots of mixed nuts (bottom).
(From Thévet)

A native chief twirls a pineapple on his finger, Globetrotter-style, 
while his fellow tribesmen look distracted. 
(From Thévet)

I have no idea what is going on here. But my sources tell me the the intellegent-faced beast is supposed to be that  Brazilian native, the sloth.
(From Thévet)

"How the Amazons treat those they take in war." Watch out, French settlers!
(From Thévet)

"People [naked slaves?] cut and carry Brazilwood for ships."
(From Thévet)

"An Indian Family," just hanging out with a pineapple. (From de Léry)

"Portrait of the battle between the Tupinamba Indians and Margaias(?) Americans." 
Native Brazilians war as a disinterested parrott (far right) looks on, the locals barbecue some limbs (top-left), and a draft-dodger naps in a hammock (top-center)
(From de Léry)

"Evil spirits, called 'Aygnan', tormenting the Indians of Brazil,"
Note the return of the wise but enigmatic man-faced beast (middle-left), standing next to the Frenchmen chewing the fat with a native (middle-center), while an evil spirit is tenderly comforting (or devouring the soul of) a man (bottom-center).
(From de Léry)

Well, Treasured Readers, after these jolly scenes, we have come to the end of another edition of the Cabinet. May you avoid ambushes by evil spirits and have the good fortune to stumble upon a learned and kind man-sloth in your travels!


*     No happy-footed penguins or retreating ice sheets in this Antarctic! For some reason, the French called the whole area south of the equator the Antarctic ("opposite of the Bear").  

17 February 2013

The Athenian Mercury: The World's First Advice Column

The February 28, 1693/4 issue of the Athenian Mercury, chock-full of inspired questions, sage advice, and unnecessary capital letters.

Dear Readers, 

Ever wonder how Dear Abby, Dear Prudence, Dolly Parton in Straight Talk, or your favorite Agony Aunt got their start? Wonder no more! for today I bring you the story of the seventeenth-century periodical the Athenian Mercury, the first advice column, and its half-crazed, half-genius impresario, John Dunton, and his gang of merry advisers. 

Isaac D'Israeli, father of Benjamin Disraeli, called Dunton a "cracked-brain scribbling bookseller, who boasted he had a thousand projects, fancied he had methodized six hundred, and was ruined by the fifty he executed." But among those myraid doomed projects was a lump of figurative journalistic gold! - The Athenian Mercury.

Dunton, sometime denizen of London, called his brain-storm for an advice magazine scheme his "queſtion-answer project." In 1690, he recruited three of his acquaintances, Richard Sault, Samuel Wesley, and "Dr. Norris" to form the Athenian Society. In the pages of the Mercury, the Society would be spoken of as a real club with exclusive membership and regular meetings, in the manner of the Lunar Society (of Birmingham) or the Royal Society (of London for Improving Natural Knowledge). In point of fact, it was just a front for the editors and contributors to the magazine to give them advice-doling cred. Dunton later asserted the membership of the Athenians grew to twelve members, but most of his fellow bookmongers, magazineers, and publishers knew that this claim was just another of Dunton's "damn'd lunatickal lies."

A depiction of a meeting of the Athenian Society, including the four real members and twenty-two phantasmal members. Meetings could get unruly and sometimes resulted in an alcohol-fueled and mob-induced hanging of one of the aforementioned members (see middle panel above). From Charles Gildon's pseudo-history The History of the Athenian Society (1692).

Dunton took out an advertisement to solicit questions for the first run of issues:

All Persons whatever may be resolved gratis in any Question that their own satisfaction or curiosity shall prompt 'em to, if they send their Questions by a Penny Post letter to Mr. Smith at his Coffee-house in Stocks Market in the Poultry, where orders are given for the reception of such Letters, and care shall be taken for their Resolution by the next Weekly Paper after their sending.
The Mercury was published twice weekly. The first issues were called the Athenian Gazette or Causistical Mercury, but Dunton quickly contracted the name to Mercury, as to not anger the formidable editors of the London Gazette, then as now the official organ of the English/British/UK government. 

John Duntons. Notice the growth of Dunton's wig as he aged. 
(Although perhaps the one on the left is a fake, as it refers to a "M.r Iohn Dvnton," 
the dead minister of Aston Clinton, certainly not one of our Dunton's many professions.)

Richard Sault took on the questions relating to maths. Sault was the author of popular titles like A Treatise of Algebra (1694) and a translation from the Latin of Aegidius Strauch II's Breviarium Chronologicum (1699). He also headmaster'd a mathematick school near London's Royal Exchange. 

Samuel Wesley, as a clergyman and moonlighting poet, advised on questions of a theological or metaphysical nature. He also happened to be Dunton's brother-in-law.

The fourth (real) member of the Society was the shadowy figure Dr. (John) Norris. Not much is known of his involvement beyond that he tackled questions of a medical or pseudo-scientific nature, and refused compensation for his advising services. 

The Reverend Samuel Wesley, Athenian Societitian and father of the Wesley Boys. On the right Wesley can be seen holding his riding crop in preparation for one of his frequent meditative camel rides 'round the pyramids (now demolished) at St. James's Park.  

The Mercury was a quick and resounding success, spawning many imitators. The Athenians had their great nemesis in the copycat Lacedemonian [Spartan] Mercury, a publication started to capitalize on the Athenian Mercury's great periodical successes by plagiarizing popular entries. It was said that Sault once challenged Thomas Brown, the primary Lacedemonian editor and whom Dunton called "the chief Antagonist," to a duel at swordpoint. Less is known of the rumored "Adviſing-Duels," in which the two editors engaged in a series of advice-giving matches for a paying Covent Garden audience.

Poultry Street, London, where Dunton founded his multimedia empire, as it appeared in 1697. 
 [Courtesy: www.flickr.com/photos/markhillary/3261154012/]

But what of the questions themselves? They spanned the length and breadth of Human Curios'ty. The answers, though sometimes clever fictions and dark-stabs, were often informed by the latest in scientific, theological, and common-sensical scholarship. Below are some questions culled from the rag-paper pages of the Mercury:

What's the original cause of the Gout?

Whether stones are porous?

Pray Gentlemen, what is the Cause of Suction?

What's Love?

Which of the five Senses is the most Noble?

     [A: Sight is the most Noble, Feeling more Useful.]

Whether Prince Meredith of Wales Discover'd the Indies before Columbus, as some Histories relate?

Is't possible for an Estate to prosper, which is gotten by selling lewd and vicious Books, or can he be a good Man that does so?

Why a Person cannot rise from his Seat, unless he first either bend his Body forward, or thrusts his Feet backwards?

How can a man know when he dreams or when he is really awake?

Many of these continue to baffle our greatest twenty-first-century minds. Indeed, what is the cause of Suction? 

What became of of our Athenian worthies after the Mercury ceased publication in 1697? In 1704, Dunton put together a three-volume compilation of the best of Mercury questions and answers, The Athenian Oracle (Although it is so long, and poorly edited, that this author doubts that Dunton did much culling.)

Richard "The Methodizer" Sault had, in 1700, removed himself to Uni. of Cambridge to profess the beauties of algebra. As is the case with most scholars, he died in great poverty in May 1702, despite being "supported in his last sickness by the friendly contributions" of his fellow professors. 

Samuel Wesley died in 1735, but not before siring nineteen children, including those twin evangelical dynamos, John and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism. He also wrote a lot of weird poetry.

An engraving of the newsroom of the Athenian Mercury, as it appeared in 1691. Notice Dunton, sitting at a table in the back, preparing to open a submission from a curious reader with his red-hot letter opener.

After 1697, John Dunton's  achievements were, according to a biographer, marked by a “diminishing sense of responsibility and reality" earning him "the label of eccentric and lunatic from his contemporaries.” And that was when "lunatic" meant something! Dunton then joined, according to another biographer, “the ranks of anonymous mercenaries ...who filled the bookstalls with countless tracts of poorly written and badly printed political and religious invective.”*

If you really want to know more about Dunton, you can read his freely-available-on-the-Internet seven-hundred-page autobiography, Life and Errors of John Dunton, late citizen of London; written by himself in solitude. With an idea of a new life; wherein is shewn how he'd think, speak, and act, might he live over his days again, published in 1705. (One eighteenth-century critic compared Dunton's writing style to“tangled chain, nothing impaired, but all disordered," so you might want to skip it.)

That's it for this go-round, Readers Mine. What curious bagatelle shall usher forth from the Cabinet next time? Only Your Oracular Author knows for sure!


From Stephen Parks's John Dunton and the English Book Trade.

Or, you can read Gilbert D. McEwen's engaging biography of Dunton, The Oracle of the Coffee House (1972), if you live near one of the twelve libraries in the world that have a copy.

05 February 2013

Queen Anne's Lace: Or, A Natural History of the Wild Carrot

Her body is not so white as
anemony petals nor so smooth—nor
so remote a thing. It is a field
of the wild carrot taking
the field by force; the grass
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with a purple mole
at the center of each flower.
Each flower is a hand’s span
of her whiteness. Wherever
his hand has lain there is
a tiny purple blemish. Each part
is a blossom under his touch
to which the fibres of her being
stem one by one, each to its end,
until the whole field is a
white desire, empty, a single stem,
a cluster, flower by flower,
a pious wish to whiteness gone over—
or nothing.

- William Carlos Williams

Queen Anne's Lace: beautiful wildflower, as our greatest nominally-double-barreled poet would have it, or noxious weed, as the United States Department of Agriculture and legion disgruntled farmers contend? Only an overly-lengthy and digression-prone blog post by an Erudite Amateur Scholar can get to the bottom of this troublesome question.

Botanical print of Daucus carota (1885). 

Several plants are known by the name of QUEEN ANNE'S LACE (QAL), but it is the humble Daucus carota to which I refer. The plant also is known as: Wild Carrot; Bird's Nest; Devil's Plague; Bee's Nest; Rantipole; Lace Flower; and Bishop's Lace. Strangely, given the royal origin of the name, it is usually only called Queen Anne's lace in our fair anti-monarchical United States.  

QAL is a biennal, a plant that germinates, flourishes, and dies within two summers. This life cycle is far less common than that of the annual or perennial. During Year One, it puts out roots and leaves. After overwintering, it flowers and goes to seed during the second summer. Ah! Summer's lease hath all too short a date! 

A small colony of Queen Anne's Lace in various stages of bloom

The flower stalk is nigh on a yard (one meter for my non-American and non-Liberian readers) high. The inflorescence, called an umbel, is made up of dozens to hundreds of tiny individual flowers. The flowers are white, with the common exception of a single wine- (or blood-!) colored flower in the center of the umbel, which is used to attract insects. 

Daucus carota is not to be confused with the "Philosopher's Bane," the POISON HEMLOCK (Conium maculatum), a biennial both pleasing to the eye and troublesome to the mammalian central nervous system. The two species have similar-looking leaves and flowers, but the expert naturalist can spot that the hemlock has smooth (not hairy) stems and often stands a full yard (1 m.) taller than QAL. But this doppelgangerality shouldn't be a problem unless you use it as a Clif Bar substitute during your nature walk. 

Botanical print of the poison hemlock (1897)

But is Queen Anne's Lace good for anything except lookin' perty? Perhaps! The first recorded mention of QAL comes to us from Ancient Greece, land of the Democracy and botanical corporal punishment. The great medical doctor and notorious oath-taker Hippocrates of Kos (c. 460-370 BCE) recommended the seeds as a contraceptive, probably on the advice of Mrs. Hippocrates.  

The great Greek physician Hippocrates, whose experiments with and exposure to the wild carrot resulted in premature baldness and a permanent pupil-less, thousand-bēma stare.

Man's fecundity: A sampling of varieties of "Eatin' Carrot" bred from the wild QAL.

Would you believe that QAL, the so-called wild carrot, is, in fact, the hearty natural stock from which our ingenious human ancestors selectively bred the familiar carrot sold by every greengrocer worth his or her greengroceries? Carrots were, at first, cultivated for their leaves, which were used for greens, and their aromatic seeds, which were used for smelling. The cultivated carrot we eat today is the taproot, which, when in its wild state, has a rather unpleasant woodiness, bitterness, and noticeable dearth of orangeness. 

Botanical print of the newly-orange carrot (1796)

It was those great orange-loving, botanical-novelty-demanding innovators, the Dutch, who gave the carrot its modern hue in the seventeenth century. This new brand of carrot was sweeter, and perhaps was a tribute to the Dutch royal family the House of Orange, famous for its scions William the Silent, first head of state assassinated with a firearm, and William III of Orange, King of England, first head of state assassinated by a mole.

William the Silent (1533-84), founder of the Dutch House of Orange, in the middle of being assassinated with a pistol, or dood peen.

But back to the carrot's unruly forebearer. Who is the royal namesake of Queen Anne's lace? It is said that this "Queen Anne" loved to make "lace," which resembles the white umbrel of the plant, but, because of her abnormally large, cumbersome hands, she often needle-pricked her finger, hence the single blood-red flower at the center. These are the main candidates:

Anne, Princess of Denmark (1574-1619), wife of James I/VI of England/Scotland (1566-1625, ruled 1567/1603-1625), and mother of Charles I, he of civil warring and regicide-inducing stubbornness. In addition her fondness for botany and lacemaking (notice her collar!), Queen Anne often went on long walks with her five identical dogs (not King Charles Spaniels, bred by her grandson, oddly) as her favorite horse and servant trailed behind at a respectable distance. (See above.)

Our second candidate is Queen Anne of Great Britain (1665-1714, ruled 1702-1714), great-granddaughter of the previous Anne and last of the Stuart line (and sister-in-law of William III of Orange!) to sit on the British throne. When not stuffing her face with carrots, Anne was busy birthing sickly and ill-fated infants, arguing with her best gal-pal Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (and ancestress of Winston), and perhaps making lace out of flowers. 

No, not THAT Queen Anne's lace!

Your Humble Author is leaning toward Anne of Denmark as the true namesake, but, since it's all in the family anyway, I suppose the truth isn't so important. 

Well, Dearest Readers, another Cabinet post is drawing to a close, much like the curled-up, birds-nest-like seedhead of Daucus carota. I hope you have come to appreciate the carrot's wild ancestor, majestic biennial and favorite of roadside ditches everywhere. 

17 February 2012

"Three Years Travels from Moscow Over-Land to China": A 17th-Century Backpacker's Tale

Original title page in English, with a slightly modified title, and a veritable Oriental menagerie -- monkey (top right), elephant (bottom right), dead fish included (bottom-center).

In this installment, I have for your reading pleasure the tale of Evert Ysbrants Ides, seventeenth-century ambassador and traveler to deepest Orient. Such land journeys to Eastern realms were rare, and this early modern Paul Theroux was one of the few Western Europeans to visit Siberia or China before the late nineteenth century. Ides' account of the journey he made from Moscow to Peking (Beijing) in 1693 was published in English in 1705 as: 
Three Years Travels from Moscow Over-Land to China, thro' Great Ustiga, Siriana, Permia, Siberia, Daour, Great Tartary, etc. to Peking, Containing, An exact and particular Description of the Extent and Limit of those Countries, and the Customs of the Barbarous Inhabitants; with reference to their Religion, Government, Marriages, daily Imployments, Habits, Habitations, Diet, Death, Funerals, etc.
Well, that just about covers everything - imployments, diet, and death! Written by "his Excellency E. Ysbrants Ides, Ambassador from the Czar of Muscovy to the Emperor of China," it was first printed in Dutch "by the Direction of Burgomaster Witzen*, formerly Ambassador in England," being "now Faithfully done into English." (One assumes that the arbitrary use of italics was carried over from the original.) 

Nicolaes Witsen, stern patron of Ides and several Amsterdam wig-wrights.

Your Faithful Author can find little biographical information about Ides, but this lack of source material is rarely a problem here at the Cabinet.  His companion on the embassy to China, Adam Brand (also known as "Adam Brand, P.I." and "Adam Brand, Attorney at Law"), an Englishman, beat Ides to the punch, publishing A Journal of an Embassy from Their Majesties John and Peter Alexowits, Emperors of Muscovy, etc. into China...With some Curious Observations Concerning the Products of Russia.† But Ides' account has awesome illustrations (reproduced below)! 

Coincidentally, in 1697, the young Russian czar Peter "Alexowits" "The Great," the very man who had sent the embassy to China, made a similar envoy from Rus to the wild Occident lands of France, the Netherlands, and England. Peter traveled to Western Europe incognito, disguised as a poor eight-feet-tall journeyman shipwright, with a large posse of "apprentices" (royal hangers-on) in tow. 

"Pete Romanov" in his shipwright togs, with the ship he built with his own hands to sail back to Russia, loved a good embassy.

Witsen's 1705 map of Tartary. The Korea peninsula is on the bottom-right; the Chinese Empire at the very bottom; and the Bering Sea on the top-right. The realm of Prester John is mysteriously absent.  

Below are several illustrations from Ides' book - enjoy, Readers!

The daily commute: "Russians travelling with Dog sleads in Siberia"

"Samojedian Hart sleds": Why use dogs when you can use harts (reindeer, in this case), and wear woodwose-like fur suits? (Also, this reminds me of a Currier and Ives print!)

Is it just Your Humble Author, or does this look unmistakably like similar depictions of American Indians from the same period, tepees, buckskins, and bows and arrows included? Eerily Atlantean similarity across continents, or lazy John White-plagiarist

"The Embassadors entry through the famous Chinese wall which is 1200 miles long.": Ides relates how Dutch legends of his day told of how the Great Wall of Cathay was so extensive and, well...great, that even the dearly departed Elect could see it from the strict Calvinist Paradise upon high.  

"The Embassadors Introduction into the Audience hall": The Imperial Court in Peking put Ides and his companions up in special mobile "elephant hostels" (on left) for the duration of their visit.   

"The Embassador entertained by the Emperor in the best audience chamber.": An honor for Ides and co., as most Europeans were relegated to the third-best audience chamber, especially Jesuits

 *    "Burgomaster" Nicolaes Witsen (1641-1717), thirteen-time mayor of Amsterdam, was a fellow Siberian explorer, whose book Noord en Oost Tartarye (North and East Tartary) also appeared in 1692 (1705 in English). This book, unlike Ides' travel narrative, is an encyclopedic account of everything Europeans knew (and made up) about Russia, Siberia, China, and Japan at the time. 

†   Sadly, Adam Brand's "Curious Observations" are doomed to disappoint the modern reader, although there is an extensive and fascinating section on the construction and distribution of ushankas (stereotypical Russian hats), several basic borscht recipes, and helpful tips on Old Believer beard maintenance.  
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